Season Preview: NBA 2021 / 2022 - favorites & challengers
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Season Preview: NBA 2021 / 2022 – favorites & challengers

Is the NBA set for its first New York/Los Angeles finals in almost 50 years?

The 2021-22 NBA season tips off Tuesday night and The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are the prohibitive favorites to meet for the NBA Championship. Both teams bolstered their rosters with star power and the odds reflect that.

In the NBA Western Conference, the Lakers are the favorite to win and go for their 18th NBA title in franchise history, while in the Eastern Conference the Nets are the overwhelming favorite to reach the finals for just the third time in their history and perhaps win their first-ever title.

Odds have the Nets as the 5-2 favorite to win the title, while the Lakers are the second choice at 4-1.

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The Lakers and Nets, while they were still based in New Jersey, faced off in the finals in 2002. The Lakers swept that series 4-0 on the way to their third consecutive NBA title. The last time a New York team and a Los Angeles team, the league’s two largest media markets, met for the title was 1973 when the New York Knicks beat the Lakers, 4-2.

For the Lakers getting to the finals wouldn’t be a surprise. They won the NBA’s shortened 2020 title (due to Covid 19). On the way to a repeat in 2021 injuries to stars LeBron James during the season and Anthony Davis in the playoffs saw the Lakers eliminated in the first round of the postseason by the eventual West champion Phoenix Suns.

This offseason the Lakers added point guard Russell Westbrook, a nine-time All-Star and the 2017 Most Valuable Player, in a trade with the Washington Wizards. Westbrook joins James, a 17-time All-Star, four-time MVP, and four-time Finals MVP and Davis, an eight-time All-Star is one of the most prolific “Big 3s’’ in NBA history.

The question is will the three be able to co-exist on the court at the same time. If the answer is yes, the Lakers could well be on the way to that 18th (and most of any team) league title.

What teams will challenge the Lakers in the West? Here are the top two possibilities:

Phoenix Suns (15-1): Last year’s conference champions aren’t going anyway.

The Suns have their own Big 3 in point guard Chris Paul, an 11-time All-Star, shooting guard Devin Booker, who scored 25.6 points per game last year, and young and talented big man Deandre Ayton.

Phoenix, a long-time doormat in the West, surprised the experts last year by finishing with the second-best record in the West and then making it to the finals. This year wouldn’t be a surprise.

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Golden State Warriors (9-1): Steph Curry has become the league’s most dangerous player and the seven-time All-Star and two-time MVP makes the Warriors a contender. Golden State will also welcome back Klay Thompson in about a month. Thompson hasn’t played since the 2018-19 season because of injuries. From 2015 through 2019 the Warriors went to the finals five straight years and won three times. They know how to win.

In the East, the Nets “Big 3’’ is down to a “Big 2’’ unless or until guard Kyrie Irving decides to get the Covid 19 vaccine or the league and team allow him to play without it. Thus far neither side seems to be budging.

The Nets, however, still have Kevin Durant, an 11-time All-Star, the 2014 MVP and a two-time Finals MVP and  James Harden, a nine-time All-Star and 2018 MVP. The team is also the deepest in the league with players such as Blake Griffin coming off the bench.

Who are the Nets challengers in the East? Here are the top three.

Milwaukee Bucks (9-1): It’s tough to repeat as champion in any league and in any sport. Milwaukee has a chance. The Bucks brought back all the key parts from last year’s NBA Champion and have the league’s MVP in Giannis Antekounmpo “The Greek Freak’’. Kris Middleton and Jrue Holliday form Milwaukee’s “Big 3’’ and they were good enough to win it all a year ago.

Miami Heat (22-1): People forget the Heat made it to the finals in the shortened 2020 season when Jimmy Butler emerged as an elite player. Butler is back and the team traded for sought-after veteran Kyle Lowry. Don’t sleep on this team.

Philadelphia 76ers (16-1): Despite an offseason filled with drama over point guard Ben Simmons (will they still trade him?), any team with center Joel Embiid is a contender.

By Mark Eckel

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