With the 2019-20 NBA campaign on the verge of returning, the usual suspects still remain the favorites to win a championship: the two Los Angeles teams and the Milwaukee Bucks.
While there are obvious reasons as to why the Clippers, Lakers and Bucks are the top dogs, there are other clubs who could end up making a push for a title.
Here are three darkhorse NBA title contenders:
This one is a bit of a reach, but just hear me out.
Going into the NBA season, the Pacers were dependent one on key factor: the return of Victor Oladipo. Oladipo ended up getting back on the floor in January, and during the time he played, he didn't look very good.
However, Oladipo will have gotten four-and-a-half months of extra rest by the time the season returns, which could give Indiana a fearsome foursome of Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.
It stinks that Jeremy Lamb tore his ACL, so Indy's depth is fairly compromised. However, Oladipo is one of the best two-way players in basketball when he is healthy, and Sabonis was in the midst of a breakout campaign.
I really liked the Pacers going into this NBA voyage, and with Oladipo getting some time off, I still kind of, sort of like them. Of course, the counterargument would be that Oladipo needs live game action more than anything else, so we'll see.
I didn't know what to make of the Rockets heading into this NBA season. James Harden and Russell Westbrook as a backcourt duo? Really?
Somehow, Houston was able to make it work. While the Rockets have certainly had their bumps in the road along the way, they have, for the most part, been one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Yes, the Clint Capela trade threw a wrench into things in terms of chemistry (and size up front), but Houston's ability to go super small can give many opponents fits defensively.
Harden has also been staying in phenomenal shape during the lockdown, having lost a considerable amount of weight throughout the break. This could hurt Harden more than it helps, as he relies an awful lot on his size and strength to bully defenders, but on the other hand, it could make him even more explosive in getting to the rim and drawing contact.
I am still not 100 percent sold on the Rockets, but there is no doubt they are a darkhorse out West.
Many have had the Celtics pegged as the second-best team in the East behind the Bucks, so calling them a darkhorse may seem a bit over the top.
However, I haven't heard many people say that Boston is a serious NBA title contender.
The C's have benefited greatly from this time off, as Kemba Walker has gotten an opportunity to rest his pesky knee and Robert Williams has been able to recover from his injury. Plus, let's remember that Jaylen Brown had been dealing with some nagging lower body injuries.
With Walker, Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis, the Celtics have one of the NBA's most talented starting lineups, and bringing Marcus Smart and Enes Kanter off the bench is no joke.
I'm still not sure Boston is legitimately ready to win an NBA championship, but the C's were given a pretty big assist from this layoff.