The NBA is back online, and that’s fantastic news. As baseball trips over itself to prove it’s a competent league, the NBA has absolutely crushed their plan to restart the 2019-20 season during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The Bubble works. That’s science… right?
So as the season tips off for the second time, let’s talk about some things.
Second Biggest Underdog: The Sacramento Kings
I got yelled at for writing this piece a few weeks ago, but I still stand by it. The Kings are wildcards, the kind that is the most dangerous – they have nothing to lose.
Ahead of the shutdown, of all the teams below .500, the Kings were the only team in the West with a winning record over their last 10 games. In those 10 games, the Kings were 5-1 against West Coast teams. In their last 15 Western Conference games, the Kings were 10-5, with two wins against the Clippers and Grizzlies, as well as wins against San Antonio and Portland.
The Kings began the season hampered by injuries, and have struggled to find their footing. With so many guys stepping up and trying to “be the guy,” De’Aaron Fox took the reins after his injury, and never looked back. With Richaun Holmes putting up numbers that make you ask “Where did we find this guy?” and Buddy Hield returning to form by coming off the bench, the Kings are real.
They are the wildcard of wildcards. Keep your eye on the crown.
Biggest Underdog: The Memphis Grizzlies
While the Kings are upset machines, the Grizzlies are the true underdog in the West, even if they are sitting in the coveted 8-seed.
The Grizzlies started the season looking like a team who had no identity, a team that was completely lost. Sitting at 12-21 heading into the New Year, Memphis hoped that 2020 would bring better days. And while it’s been a nuclear disaster of a year so far, the Grizzlies put in the work.
After their abysmal start to the season, Memphis went on a 15-5 run through the middle of February, putting themselves back in the playoff conversation.
All of that is being done by the explosive play of rookie Ja Morant. If Morant doesn’t win Rookie of the Year, I’m going to scream. That’s a travesty. That’s a joke. Ja Morant showed up from Day 1 and put Memphis on his back. He’s played as if it’s Game 7 almost every single time he’s touched the floor. The kid is the future in Memphis, and he’s showing us what he’s got right now.
Most Overlooked Team: The Miami Heat
The Miami Heat are a good basketball team. They are dynamic, explosive, and occasionally suffocating. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo lead this Heat team into battle every game, and they’ve led by example ahead of the shutdown.
We’ve discussed Jimmy Butler at length on this site, but the Miami Heat version might be the best Butler we’ve seen since his Chicago days. Butler is finally the guy in Miami, and that didn’t happen by surrounding him with stars. It happened when Pat Riley brought him into an organization that was ready to get back to their glory days.
The Heat are tragically overlooked in the Eastern Conference and are sitting in the 4th-seed, setting themselves up for a matchup with the Indiana Pacers, a team they’ll face twice before the playoffs begin. Let’s see if the Heat can set the tone for that series in those games.
While this might seem to place them with an underdog status, a team this good can’t be given that label. They’re overlooked. They’re simply too good to be counted out, but apparently not good enough to be counted on.
Most Likely to Exit Early: The Philadelphia 76ers
Look, hear me out. The Sixers are facing an uphill battle as they head into the restart as the presumed 6th-seed in the East. That sets them up for a date with the Boston Celtics, who they have dominated this season. Winning three of their four matchups this season against the Celtics, it’s in their best interests to maintain that potential matchup.
If they don’t, the Sixers are setting themselves up for an upset. Why? They’re flirting with a matchup with the Heat or the Raptors, two teams that have given themselves difficulty this season.
So what’s worse if you’re Philly? Taking on a Celtics team that is hell-bent on getting back to the Eastern Conference Finals, or taking on the Heat or Raptors, who have had your number all season?
… Kinda tough, huh? Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Most Likely to Feel the Shutdown: The Utah Jazz
For obvious reasons, the Utah Jazz have a problem with their two big stars. As reported earlier this Spring, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell was not talking to his teammate Rudy Gobert after he tested positive for COVID-19 and passed the virus to Mitchell.
This is a problem for Utah, both in the short-term and long-term. Short-term, you’re sitting in the 4-seed of the Western Conference poised to face a Thunder team you can handle in the first round. If they beat the Thunder and the lower seeds all lose, they’d face the Nuggets, who have beaten then twice, but both games were close.
Utah has the chance to make a splash in the Western Conference, but with two feuding stars… things might get bumpy.
Most Likely NBA Finals Matchup: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Bucks in 7)
The two best teams in the league, with the two best players, going toe-to-toe in the NBA Finals. What could be better than that?
Honestly, nothing. Basketball is back, so let’s rejoice.
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