Basketball fans, rejoice! The NBA makes its grand return tomorrow morning as the Boston Celtics host the Philadelphia 76ers followed by a clash between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Warriors are the overwhelming favourites yet again, and people who think otherwise are just being hopeful. Their core of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green is still in their prime, and a treble definitely seems on the cards. New boy DeMarcus Cousins is yet to be integrated, but other than that Steve Kerr’s roster looks good for yet another successful campaign.
The main challengers to Golden State in the west are Houston, and the Rockets came mighty close to reaching the Finals last time. James Harden finally has his MVP, and they can be excused if the cruise in the regular season. In the playoffs, however, they are a matchup nightmare for any side.
Utah seems like the third best side in the west, but they could put on a show in the regular season as the former two will be expected to cruise through. Donovan Mitchell is set to improve massively, and their team game is sure to facilitate another playoff run.
Then come the Lakers, a side who will be under tremendous attention as LeBron James takes centre stage in Los Angeles. James will be accompanied by youngsters Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram as well as veterans like Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson. Successful or not, the Lakers are going to be an intriguing watch. But it’s Lebron after all, so playoff success is highly likely.
The other suspects in the west include the New Orleans Pelicans, where Anthony Davis will look to scale new heights. The Thunder will look to put in a more consistent showing as Paul George begins his second season there. Nothing is normal in Minnesota, but if things are sorted out they can be a mean outfit.
Aside from these, the Blazers, Spurs, and Nuggets look good as well. The Clippers, Mavericks and Grizzlies round of the playoff candidates in what is sure to be an exciting race for the eight spots.
Out in the east, the Celtics are the undeniable favourites, and missing the Finals may be looked upon as a disappointment. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will return, where they will see Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum who are playing well beyond their years. Masterminded by coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics have a deep and well-rounded roster who can, in theory even challenge the Warriors at the very top.
Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor. It still sounds weird, but the Raptors will be hopeful this season as long-term nemesis LeBron is finally out of the east. They will be confident of making a deep playoff run, but whether Nick Nurse can unleash Kawhi’s full potential remains to be seen.
The process has repaid the trust in Philly, where Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are looking like a fearsome duo. Markelle Fultz will play his first full season, and the top draft pick will look to make an impression. If not this season, the 76ers will certainly challenge for the east in the coming years.
Indiana also has a fearsome duo in Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner, and both of them have scope to improve. If Oladipo can build on last season, the Pacers can be a factor in the east. With the Pacers are the Bucks, who arguably have the East’s best player in Giannis Antetokounmpo. With the Greek Freak’s continuous development, surely they can break the first round hoodoo this time.
The likes of the Heat, Wizards, Detroit, and Charlotte make up the playoff contenders, with perhaps Cleveland in with a shout as well.
To wrap it up, Warriors are still the best, Celtics are going to be really good, and LeBron in LA is going to be interesting. It all kicks of tomorrow morning, an enthralling ride which is set to last till June.