The resumption of the 2019-20 NBA campaign is closing in, and even if the playoffs won’t be as intense as usual, they will still occur. That means a champion will eventually be crowned.
But in these strange times, which teams are under the most pressure to get it done in 2020? Here are the three NBA clubs facing the heaviest pressure to win a title this year:
3. Los Angeles Clippers
When the Los Angeles Clippers swung a deal for Paul George and then signed Kawhi Leonard last summer, they immediately became the prohibitive favorites in the eyes of many.
And you can understand why.
The Clippers not only have the duo of Leonard and George, but they also boast quality players like Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. What’s more, the Clips added pieces such as Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson mid-season.
All in all, this team is absolutely stacked and can play on both ends of the floor at an elite level. The scary thing is that we haven’t really seen the Clips at full strength a whole lot ahead of the coronavirus hiatus.
But now, everyone is healthy and everyone will be ready to go come playoff time. Of course, with heavy expectations comes heavy pressure.
The Clippers have the most talented roster in the NBA, so anything short of a championship would be a disappointment. Let’s also remember that both Leonard and George can opt out of their contracts next summer (or whenever next offseason is), so the heat is definitely on LA to start hanging banners as soon as possible to placate the dominant tandem.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have been pegged as the clear Eastern Conference favorites, and the clock is ticking on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s contract.
Antetokounmpo is slated to hit free agency in 2021, meaning that Milwaukee may only have one more year with the reigning MVP. He hasn’t given any indication that he plans on leaving, but you know how it works with superstars in the NBA these days.
Many have tabbed the Boston Celtics as the Bucks’ chief competition in the East, but let’s keep in mind that Gordon Hayward will be leaving the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child in the middle of September. That will be smack dab in the middle of the playoffs, so that could make things even easier for Milwaukee.
Who else can really challenge the Bucks in the East? Well, the Toronto Raptors have looked really good this season, even without Leonard. The Philadelphia 76ers are incredibly talented, but they have had a very difficult time gelling and have limited postseason experience on top of that.
Would it be a complete shock if Milwaukee didn’t represent the East in the Finals? No, but it would certainly be a disappointment for a franchise that really needs to make its star player happy over the next year.
Should the Bucks continue failing to get things done in the postseason, Antetokounmpo could end up bolting Milwaukee for a larger market that either a.) already has a star or two in place, or b.) is more likely to attract free agents than the Bucks.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
This one was an easy answer.
As phenomenal as the LeBron James-Anthony Davis duo is, the Lakers’ title window is only about halfway open. Davis can leave Los Angeles via free agency this offseason, and James is 35 years old with 17 years of NBA mileage on his legs.
The general consensus is that Davis will ultimately re-sign with LA regardless of what happens in the playoffs, but the big man’s Kyrie Irving-esque comments throughout the season have to be somewhat concerning for the Lakers.
And as I said, LeBron isn’t getting any younger and he has already reached a point where he probably isn’t the best player in the league anymore. There is going to come a time where the aging James exhibits a clear drop-off, and that could come at any time.
It’s not just James, either. The rest of the Lakers’ roster is pretty old. Los Angeles traded away three of its four most valuable pieces in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to complete the Davis deal with the New Orleans Pelicans last June. That left the Lakers with just Kyle Kuzma, who has been unimpressive this season, to say the least.
Veterans like Rajon Rondo (who will miss some time due to a thumb injury), Danny Green and Dwight Howard comprise the remainder of the roster, and while that’s fine for one playoff run, it doesn’t exactly leave you with much of a future.
The Lakers need to win a title this year more than any other team in the NBA.