December 18, 2020
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Five storylines to track during the 2020-2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) season, which kicks off on Dec. 22.
After successfully completing last season in a bio-secure bubble in Orlando, teams will once again be travelling and players, coaches and staff testing positive for the novel coronavirus is probably inevitable.
The NBA season has already been reduced from 82 to 72 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the league will try to complete its 16-team playoffs between May 22 and July 22.
Three teams – Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz, and Memphis Grizzlies – have said they will allow a limited number of fans into their arenas.
Asked what would be the determining factor in a team’s success this season, Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic simply said: “Which team is not going to have (COVID-19) positive people.”
LAKERS LOOK TO BUILD DYNASTY
The Los Angeles Lakers emerged victorious last season and are favored to repeat after signing LeBron James and Anthony Davis to contracts during the offseason and adding DeMar DeRozan and Montrezl Harrell.
The storied franchise snapped a 10-year title drought with the success and now has the kind of depth that could see them dominate the league for years to come.
But the team lost rim protectors Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee during the break and will be reliant on newly acquired, 35-year-old Marc Gasol to play key minutes at the center position.
DURANT IN BROOKLYN
The last time Kevin Durant was seen on a basketball court he was leaving the 2019 NBA Finals with an Achilles tendon injury.
The Golden State Warriors would go on the lose the series to the Toronto Raptors and Durant joined the Brooklyn Nets soon after but did not suit up for the team last season as he continued to rehab.
Fans will finally get to see Durant play alongside Kyrie Irving and, if he is fully recovered and stays healthy, the team should prove to be a serious threat in the Eastern Conference.
HARDEN ON THE MOVE?
Former MVP James Harden reportedly wants to leave the Houston Rockets, possibly for the Philadelphia 76ers or Nets – a move that would realign the balance of power in the league.
It is unclear whether a deal can get done and if not Harden will stay in Houston to play alongside John Wall, who came over from the Washington Wizards in the offseason in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
WARRIORS WITHOUT THOMPSON
The Golden State Warriors were primed to have a bounce back season with sharpshooting guards Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry finally healthy. But then disaster struck.
Thompson tore his Achilles during a practice game in November and will have to sit out for his second consecutive season.
While few expect the Warriors – who won championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018 – to contend for a title, they still have two-time MVP Curry, the scrappy Draymond Green, Kelly Oubre Jr. and second overall draft pick James Wiseman.
It will be up to coach Steve Kerr to figure out how to put the pieces together while the franchise waits for Thompson to heal.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)