NBA 2020-21 predictions: Can anyone derail LeBron and the LA Lakers?

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·8 min read
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<span>Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This season will be defined by …

What happens with James Harden. It looks like the Houston Rockets have finally faced the reality that they will have to trade the player they built the whole team around. Who would have thought that the trade of a once and potentially future MVP would play out like a family getting rid of an unwanted houseguest? HF

The shortest offseason in NBA history. The Lakers kick off their title defense only 72 days after capturing the franchise’s record-tying 17th championship. The teams who didn’t qualify for the Orlando bubble haven’t played a game since early March. What will the minimal ramp-up mean for the quality of play? Unclear! BAG

The LA franchises, for the second straight year. The reigning champs got stronger. Their Staples Center subletters got no Doc Rivers, two mercurial superstars and a league tampering investigation hanging over them along with that Lakers banner now. Talk about Hollywood drama. AL

Johnny Manziel disaster waiting to happen department …

Talent-wise, the Brooklyn Nets could end up being the East’s best team … or Kevin Durant might suffer a setback in his return from his achilles injury, a frustrated Kyrie Irving could start the process of burning bridges in his third straight franchise and first-time coach Steve Nash could be helpless to stop a collapse. HF

Brooklyn could well be a chemistry disaster. The condensed 72-game schedule means far less practice time than in a typical season, posing a potential disadvantage for teams in transition. The Nets clearly have talent to burn, but they’re also working with a bunch of new pieces and a first-year head coach in Steve Nash. BAG

I dunno about Johnny Football, but LiAngelo Ball sure seems to have the makings of another Roger Clinton. His older brother appears to be finding a groove playing opposite Zion in New Orleans. His younger brother is already the most intriguing rookie in this year’s class. And LiAngelo … just got cut by the Pistons. How different is his life if he just takes a moment to pack a pair of shades before that big college trip to Shanghai? AL

This year’s Miami Heat will be …

Do the Los Angeles Clippers count? We shouldn’t be surprised if a team built around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George makes the Western Conference finals, but these are the Clippers, a team that has never made it that far. They will finally accomplish it this year, although making it any further will be a harder trick. HF

No NBA executive was busier in the offseason than Atlanta Hawks president and general manager Travis Schlenk, who added Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn in free agency and Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth pick in the draft. Whether they can defend is an open question, but Trey Young and co have the offensive chops to give any opponent problems. BAG

The Brooklyn Nets. The KD-Kyrie combo figures to be hard to handle for every East team save for the aforementioned defending conference champs. Of course, this assumes both players are at full strength, actually find a way to play with each other. If only they had a coach around to provide some guidance … AL

Rookie of the year

James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors. Anthony Edwards was the top draft pick and LaMelo Ball will be the biggest name, but it feels like Wiseman could be ready to make a huge impact in his first season, particularly if he ends up as the team’s starting center. HF

Obi Toppin, New York Knicks. The Knicks have been trash for as long as anyone can remember and this year will be no different, which means the eighth pick in November’s draft will have ample opportunity to stuff the stat sheet. Look for the 22-year-old from the University of Dayton to become the first New York player to capture Rookie of the Year honors since Mark Jackson in 1988. BAG

LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets. This kid’s sleight-of-handle should be good for at least eight assists per game. And his half-court three-ball attempts are sure to leave His Heirness thrusting a triumph fist in the air as slapping at his mom jeans in frustration. As for the inevitable turnovers … well, never mind those. Just watch the Hornets this season. For the first time since Zo, Muggsy and Grandmama, they won’t be dull. AL

Most Valuable Player

Anthony Davis, LA Lakers. It feels like the biggest roadblock between Anthony Davis and his first MVP could be on his own team. Yes, Davis and LeBron James very well could split the vote, but if LeBron finally starts looking his age while Davis leads the Lakers to the NBA’s best regular-season record, that should be enough to become the frontrunner. HF

Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks. It’s scary to imagine what Dončić could produce in his third NBA season after averaging 21/8/6 as a rookie and 29/9/9 last year. It says here the 22-year-old Slovenian floor general captures MVP honors after becoming only the third player in NBA history to average a triple-double for the season. BAG

LeBron James, LA Lakers. Sure there are flashier picks – Luka and Giannis, the reigning MVP, to name two. But that’s exactly why LeBron is still the one. The older he gets, the more easily the game seems to come to him. Quite frankly, he’s the Apple of NBA stocks – not as sexy as he used to be, but still making a helluva return.

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In only his second season in the NBA, Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists. Photograph: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Bold prediction

The Houston Rockets figure out a way to finalize a James Harden trade midway through the season. Wait, it gets bolder here. Then, Houston ends up having a better record without him than with him, despite Harden putting up better statistical numbers with his new team. Civil war is unleashed between old-school and new-school basketball analysts. HF

Shake Milton will win Sixth Man of the Year. Milton’s emergence with Philadelphia was one of the feel-good stories of last season. Look for him to thrive under new coach Doc Rivers, whose track record of cultivating elite talents off the bench (see: Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell) is well-documented. BAG

I’ll give you four: 1) Trae Young goes for 70 in a game because .. what else does Atlanta have to play for? 2) This is the year we really start paying attention to Sacramento. 3) The Pacers deal Oladipo and Sabonis before the deadline. 4) The Knicks make the playoffs because, hey, there are 10 spots now! AL

Eastern Conference playoff teams

Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets HF

Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic BAG

Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks AL

Western Conference playoff teams

LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings HF

LA Lakers, Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors BAG

LA Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings AL

Eastern Conference finals

Milwaukee Bucks 4-2 Boston Celtics HF

Boston Celtics 4-3 Philadelphia 76ers BAG

Brooklyn Nets 4-3 Miami Heat AL

Western Conference finals

LA Lakers 4-3 LA Clippers HF

LA Lakers 4-2 Denver Nuggets BAG

LA Lakers 4-2 Denver Nuggets AL

NBA finals

LA Lakers 4-2 Milwaukee Bucks. As previously predicted, the Clippers finally break their curse and this time the Bucks don’t get shocked by the Miami Heat. Not that it will matter in the end, as the Lakers end up winning back-to-back titles. HF

LA Lakers 4-1 Boston Celtics. The Lakers were a historically good team during their championship run in the Walt Disney World bubble. With the addition of Marc Gasol, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Schröder and Montrezl Harrell, this year’s edition may be even better. BAG

LA Lakers 4-1 Brooklyn Nets. With a stronger bench and a second year in Frank Vogel’s system, it’s hard not to see the Lakers romping in five games again. The chef’s kiss twist this year is LeBron getting to flaunt another finals MVP trophy in the faces of two guys who could swear they are better than him – and spend the offseason saying as much on their burner social media accounts. AL