The NBA is back
The NBA returns after a four-and-a-half month break due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 2020 season will be completed inside a "bubble" at Disney World in Florida where 22 of the league's 30 teams are currently putting the finishing touches on their preparations for the restart. The other eight teams are already eliminated and will not be heading to Orlando.
Each team will play eight games to settle seedings for the playoffs before heading straight into the postseason.
As with most sport going on right now there will be no fans in attendance but the leaked pictures this week show that the NBA have some pretty big plans for the games with huge screens set up around the court.
Teams to watch
The Lakers and Bucks are leading the way in their conferences and sit at the top of the market right now. But the long layoff these teams have faced could well work against them. Both teams had been gathering momentum as we headed towards the playoffs and it may take some time to get back to that level, opening up the upset possibilities, particularly early in the playoffs. LeBron James and the rest of the Lakers have plenty of experience and should be able to handle the situation though.
The Bucks are a much younger team lead by soon to be two time MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. While they are still strong favourites in the Eastern Conference, and having one of the best players in the league helps, it really opens things up for teams such as the Celtics, Heat and Raptors.
Toronto spent much of the season struggling with injuries and they could be one of the big beneficiaries from a break. Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet would all be starters for the Raptors and have missed at least 10 games each this season. A healthy team makes them a big threat to unexpectedly retain their title.
Players to watch
James looked like he was going to overtake Antetokounmpo in the MVP race before the break. While that race seems over now - Giannis is currently 1/40 - James has his sites set firmly on a fourth NBA Championship. The Lakers will almost certainly be the first seed in the competitive Western conference where they look destined for a showdown with their neighbours, the Clippers.
The two LA teams face off on the opening night of the restart but many think that their potential playoff clash could decide the winner of the title. At 35, LeBron is still arguably the best player in the league and with not too many seasons left for him, this is a golden opportunity.
Zion Williamson's NBA career is just 19 games old after missing much of the season through injury. But when Williamson is on the court, the rookie is already one of the most must watch players in the league. All eyes will be on the Pelicans star when they open things back up against the Jazz next Thursday night and there has been nothing in his career so far that has shown that he won't handle the pressure.
Jayson Tatum was on fire before the league was put on hold and if the Celtics are going to make a run in Orlando then it is likely to be on the back of the All Star forward. In his third season he has shown that he can put the team on his back and lead the talented Boston team. With Kyrie Irving heading out the door in the offseason, the former number three overall pick had to step up and he has done that and more.
At this stage it is hard to know exactly how these teams will react to this unusual season, and that means the possibility of upsets in the playoffs have definitely gone up. So I would look to back some teams with a little more value over the likes of the Bucks who are currently 4/7 to head to the NBA Finals and win the Eastern Conference. The Raptors have shown all season that they just find a way to win and the feisty team will cause problems in every game. Back them at 11/2 reach a second straight finals.
The Lakers have been my pick to win it all since the start of the season and, despite all the issues, I think the experience they have throughout the roster will see them through.
In LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they have two MVP candidates who can take over a game on their own. Add into that the solid roster behind them and they are going to be hard for any team to beat over a seven-game series. At 13/5 they are very backable and of all the rosters they have the fewest question marks right now.