When the lights get switched on at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee tonight, the 2020 Championship pennant will get raised in front of fans ahead of their first game for the year against the Brooklyn Nets and a new NBA season will be off and racing.
While the world is still recovering from the global pandemic, there’s a lot to look forward to as the NBA embarks on its 75th season, a feat worth celebrating alone, and will be nothing short of intriguing.
Expect the league to promote flashbacks and dish out highlight reels. They are also releasing the 75th Anniversary team which will sure to be a cause for great debate.
Some things are different since the season ended on July 21.
The play-in tournament, for one, is now a real regular thing.
Players — at least 96 per cent of them — are fully vaccinated.
After a two-year pause, basketball arenas are slowly appearing normal again, with the hope that some stadiums will be back to full capacity in the months ahead.
And the season has gone back to a full 82-game year, which kicks off with the reigning champion Bucks against this year’s favourites, the Nets, before the Warriors take on the Lakers in a Steph Curry versus LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook showdown.
The NBA is never short of storylines and, heading into this season, there are not going to be too many lulls.
In the immediate frame, there are concerns over some star players who might miss most — if not all — of the NBA action this year. Kyrie Irving is one, who was asked to get vaccinated by the Nets and is yet to do so. He is out indefinitely and Brooklyn’s championship campaign dangles in the balance.
The drama around Ben Simmons keeps exploding to new heights each day and his time in Philly looks more likely to end by the hour. Is he trying to decrease his value? Word is he’s not engaging with the 76ers and has been suspended for a game after failing to be part of a defensive drill. It’s been a situation that at times has been hard to read, but it’s impossible to think he gets court time if he can’t be part of a training drill.
Jamal Murray, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury, is racing the clock and hopes to be part of Denver’s playoff campaign — if they make it. The same can be said for Kawhi Leonard, although if he does suit up for the Clippers before April, we should expect him to go large on load management.
Zion Williamson, the 21-year-old phenom who is built like a brick farmhouse, had last-minute surgery to repair an ankle and now there’s no certainty around a return date. He’s one excitement machine you want to see on court for the Pelicans.
All eyes will be on no.1 draft pick Cade Cunningham, his development and his Detroit Pistons. In fact, the race for rookie of the year will be fun. Remember Jalen Suggs felt like he should have been the no.1 pick? He will have a point to prove — he ended up going to the Magic with pick five. Rockets shooting guard Jalen Green has had a solid pre-season and will get plenty of shots at Houston.
Let’s not forget Australia’s pick no.6 in Josh Giddey, who’s shown he can handle the ball and the physicality of the NBA with an impressive pre-season that should roll over into the real stuff. All four players — Cunningham, Suggs, Green, Giddey — should be able to get the opportunities to stuff the stat sheet in teams that are emerging.
What about the MVP title? It’s probably an open field led by Luka Doncic, James Harden, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That quartet just have this knack where they roam and score as they please and have this extra gear that most players don’t have. Steph Curry will also have something to say about it this year in a Warriors team that will rely heavily on him to score with Klay Thompson gone for most of the year.
Karl-Anthony Towns might not win the MVP — I mean, he might – but losing his mother to COVID-19 last year took its toll on him mentally. The good news, however, is that he looks fit, he’s down to 240 pounds (compared to 275 pounds last season) and could be in for a massive rebound season – that would be basketball poetry.
So, who’s going to win it all? While the Bucks are third-favourite to run it back this year, firmly behind the Nets and Lakers, I think they win it again. They have the right mix of steely defensive chops and firepower. Miami will be there. They’ve added former Raptor Kyle Lowry and no-one will want to play them come playoffs because their defence is made for cut-throat games.
Yes, the Nets are in the mix, so too LeBron’s Lakers, but they’re expected to be there at the end with the teams they bought and built — boring.
The Bulls are intriguing. They looked retooled after acquiring DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso. But with a busy off-season comes the pressure to perform. The Suns should be able to replicate last year’s run if they can keep the same chemistry alive which could be tarnished with Deandre Ayton’s contract not extended.
There’s also a chance Philly can be part of the championship conversation if they part ways with Ben Simmons sooner than later and replace him with a ready-made elite shooter.
If you fell asleep through all this and really just want to know the NBA preview in a simple sentence, Patty Mills summed up the feeling of a brand new year best when he posted this to Instagram.
“We’re here now. Refreshed and recharged. Let’s get this thing rolling. All day. All in.”