Warrior Weekly: season predictions for NBA championship favorites

WSPNs Aditya Weling previews the NBA season and his two favorites for this years championship

Credit: WSPN Staff

WSPN’s Aditya Weling previews the NBA season and his two favorites for this years championship

It’s October, which means sports are in full swing. The NFL regular season is heating up, the MLB playoffs are gaining momentum and the NHL season is getting started. However, what might be most exciting is the start of the NBA regular season. Teams are getting into form and star players are going through the motions in preseason exhibitions.

NBA Tip-Off is set for Oct. 19, where the first two games will feature two conference rivals and playoff hopefuls facing off, in the Warriors vs. Lakers and the Bucks vs. Nets. After that, the craziness begins, with 30 teams racing towards one goal: the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at two of the favorites this year and make some predictions on if their ultimate goal will be achieved.

Los Angeles Lakers
In this century, if a conversation is about basketball, it starts and ends with LeBron James. James is now on his third team, representing one of the most storied franchises in the history of American sports: the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2020, he delivered the first championship in 10 years to the Lakers, hoisting both the Finals Trophy and Finals MVP for the third time in his career.

However, in the season after that bubble championship, LeBron and his sidekick, Anthony Davis, had L.A. front-running early once again. LeBron was firmly in the top two of the MVP conversation, and it looked like the preseason favorites would be positioned perfectly to repeat for the sixth time in franchise history. Then, injuries happened. Rather unsurprisingly, Davis was in-and-out of the lineup, playing less than half of the regular season with mainly lower leg issues. After a freak play against the Hawks, LeBron would miss nearly half the season as well, as the NBA’s iron man only started 45 games during the regular season.

As one might expect, the Lakers dropped in the standings, all the way to seventh in the West. Thus, they ended up having to get through the NBA’s new “play-in” tournament. After their victory over the Warriors, they were set to play the Phoenix Suns. However, the injuries during the season couldn’t be left behind as AD played barely half of the six-game series, and LeBron was not fully recovered. The eventual Western Conference-winning Suns booted the Lakers out in the first round, and questions around the league were bound to ensue.

The Lakers’ addition of Russell Westbrook from the Wizards only amplified the attention. Much has been made about the age of the Lakers, with the team being amongst the oldest in the league. However, age is also experience, and LeBron will try to navigate his newest big three to a title.

Prediction: The Lakers will miss the Finals.
While some might make this about what the Lakers don’t have or even have too much of, this is really about the fact that the rest of the Western Conference has caught up. The Clippers (even without Kawhi), the defending conference-champion Suns, Luka’s Mavericks and the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic’s Nuggets will all be jostling for a spot in the finals. One will push the Lakers out of the playoffs on their way there.

Brooklyn Nets
The Lakers aren’t the only big three in the league. The Brooklyn Nets, who are most betting sites’ preseason Finals pick, have one of their own. Or do they? Last season, the Nets were as hyped as any team in recent memory. Former MVP, and consensus top two or three player in the world, Kevin Durant returned from injury in his first NBA action since his dominant and polarizing run with the Golden State Warriors.

Kyrie Irving, a player many believe to be the most skilled player in the history of the league, is also returning from yet another injury-shortened season in his first year with the Nets. After departing Boston in a rather unceremonious manner, many labeled Irving as a locker room cancer. As free agents in 2019, Irving teamed up with Durant as the two hand-picked Brooklyn as their next destination.

Even before the Nets sent waves throughout the league with a massive midseason blockbuster, the team was widely considered to be among the favorites in the association. However, that was certainly amplified when the rumors of a James Harden and Kevin Durant reunion came to fruition, and the Nets gave up pretty much everything that didn’t have “Irving” or “Durant” in its name to acquire the former MVP. Now, stacked with three All-NBA talents, no one could keep the league’s newest and biggest powerhouse from capturing the first championship in their franchise’s history.

That is, except for themselves. Injuries, a lack of depth and poor defense kept the Nets from consistency. Irving enhanced his “distraction” label by taking a random and inexplicable midseason hiatus, and the Big Three played only seven regular-season games together. Nonetheless, the talent was overpowering, and Brooklyn managed to come into the playoffs as the second seed in the East. After dispatching the Celtics in a gentleman’s sweep, the Nets quickly looked like the team everyone assumed they would be after dominating the Bucks to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Harden got hurt in Game 1 against Milwaukee, but it didn’t seem to matter.

However, the Bucks stormed back, and Irving and Harden couldn’t stay healthy. Durant tried his best to work his magic and carry his team into the Conference Finals, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s championship hopes wouldn’t be denied, as he willed his team through a close game seven victory on his way to giving the Bucks their first NBA Finals in 40 years.

Heading into this season, the Nets are once again favorites. However, Kyrie seems to be trying his best to put an end to that as well. With the new COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions coming into place in certain areas, most of the NBA has concurred and promptly been inoculated. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, Irving has decided that he will not be vaccinated, which in the state of New York prevents him from practicing and playing in home games.

The team, apparently with Durant and Harden’s approval, has announced that Kyrie will not be able to play until he is vaccinated, and other than a couple of social media “sessions,” Irving has stayed relatively mum on his plans, with rumors of retirement and trade talks circling him. Nonetheless, the former Thunder teammates, Harden and Durant, know that they might have to go through this season without their third star.

Prediction: The Brooklyn Nets make the NBA Finals.
That’s right, after all that, the Nets are going to the Finals anyway. Bringing in new savvy veteran leadership in Patty Mills and Paul Millsap and former stars who seem to have some juice left in Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge is a solid argument as to why the franchise is going to make it to the Finals for the first time in almost 20 years. However, the only reason that Brooklyn will represent the East next June requires just two names: Harden & Durant. The 2018 MVP and the 2013 MVP, respectively, already made a Finals together ten years ago as young players in Oklahoma City. This year? Different venue, same result.