The 2020-21 NBA season is about ready to begin just a few months after the 2019-20 regular season ended.
The coronavirus pandemic is still in the forefront of everyone’s minds as the league tries to navigate a bubble-less situation. The NBA has put into place strict health and safety regulations in hopes to minimize or completely stop the spread of COVID-19 throughout the season.
Penalties for breaking the rules could result in forfeiting games or loss of draft picks. Players, coaches and essential staff will have to stay away from bars, lounges, clubs, live venues, gaming venues, public gyms, spas and pools. Players are tested daily and have been urged to get the flu shot.
The league will play a 72-game season in hopes of having the playoffs begin in the late spring.
The season tips off on Dec. 23.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the defending NBA champions and are in search of a record 18th title
Here’s a brief look at each team going into the new season.
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Trae Young is entering his third season with the Hawks and it’s hard to imagine he’s only 22. He will lead Atlanta this season and there is more expected of him. Atlanta picked up Clint Capela in the offseason to add along with a second year of DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish. Could the Hawks make a leap this season?
2019-20 record: 20-47
Divisional Finish: 5th Southeast
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, DeAndre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela
The Celtics could be looking at an addition-by-subtraction situation. Gordon Hayward bounced to the Hornets, but it could be that the offense flows more fluidly without him. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown could propel to the upper echelon of the NBA this season. Kemba Walker will be handling the point guard position for a second and hopefully full season. Boston is still among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
2019-20 record: 48-24
Divisional Finish: 2nd Atlantic
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis
Finally, Kevin Durant is back on the floor. The Nets will have a healthy Durant and Kyrie Irving on the floor this season under first-year head coach Steve Nash. Brooklyn would also really want Caris LeVert to develop into the third star he is expected to be. With Irving and Durant back, LeVert has an opportunity to flourish in the new Nets offense.
2019-20 record: 35-37
Divisional Finish: 4th Atlantic
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, Jarrett Allen
The LaMelo Ball era begins in Charlotte. The Hornets rookie will make his NBA debut this season after being selected No. 3 in the draft. He has a few young players and Gordon Hayward with him. It will be interesting to see what kind of shape this team is in and whether any improvement gets made.
2019-20 record: 23-42
Divisional Finish: 3rd Southeast
Projected 2020-21 lineup: LaMelo Ball, Devonte Graham, Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington, Cody Zeller
The Bulls have a completely revamped front office and new head coach in Billy Donovan. The team is a work in progress but players like Zach LaVine and Lari Markkanen need to stay healthy and take a leap now. Chicago could sneak into an eighth seed if the team really makes some big improvements.
2019-20 record: 22-43
Divisional Finish: 3rd Central
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr.
The Cavaliers have some of the youngest players in the NBA with the backcourt of Colin Sexton and Darius Garland and add Isaac Okoro and the young guns are going to be ready to play. Veterans Kevin Love and Andre Drummond will have to keep the team steady as the season progresses. The younger players will be able to learn a lot as the season goes on.
2019-20 record: 19-46
Divisional Finish: 5th Central
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Darius Garland, Colin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond
Luka Doncic has become one of the hottest players in the NBA and the time is now to lead the Mavericks further into the playoffs. Doncic, paired with Kristaps Porzingis, could make waves in the playoffs but the loaded Western Conference might have something else in mind.
2019-20 record: 43-32
Divisional Finish: 2nd Southwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell
The Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals with an enormous breakthrough from Jamal Murray. Murray, Nikola Jokic and maybe even the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. and Gary Harris could push this team further.
2019-20 record: 46-27
Divisional Finish: 1st Northwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
It’s a new look Pistons team that will look to get out from the basement of the NBA. Blake Griffin has solid players around him like Killian Hayes and Jerami Grant. Should everyone stay healthy, Detroit might be able to surprise some people in the Eastern Conference. But being healthy is the main factor.
2019-20 record: 20-46
Divisional Finish: 4th Central
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Killian Hayes, Delon Wright, Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
The Warriors already got some bad news to start the 2020-21 season when Klay Thompson re-injured himself. But Golden State has reloaded a bit, trading for Kelly Oubre Jr. and drafting James Wiseman. Stephen Curry might be able to push the team into the playoffs but it will need Draymond Green to step up as well. Everyone on this team will have to play a major part.
2019-20 record: 15-50
Divisional Finish: 5th Pacific
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green, James Wiseman
The Rockets are a bit in flux even as the team is destined to contend for an NBA title. James Harden trade rumors swirling, a new coach and new general manager in place and acquiring John Wall have all happened this season. Houston is one of the more interesting teams for the storylines alone. Can Wall and Harden coexist? It’s going to be a rocky season.
2019-20 record: 44-28
Divisional Finish: 1st Southwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: John Wall, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Christian Wood
The Pacers have not gone as far in the playoffs as they would have liked the last few seasons. That could change in 2021 with new coach Nate Bjorkgren at the helm. A healthy Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis are both going to be vitally important to any and all playoff hopes.
2019-20 record: 45-28
Divisional Finish: 2nd Central
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clippers not even making the Western Conference Finals last season was a major disappointment. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and hopefully a complete 72-game season, Los Angeles should have enough reps to piece something special together.
2019-20 record: 49-23
Divisional Finish: 2nd Pacific
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Serge Ibaka
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are back to lead the Lakers to a second consecutive title. The team added Dennis Schroder and Marc Gasol in free agency and look to be set for the title run. Health will be a factor as will age with James nearing the end of his illustrious career. A fifth title is not out of the question.
2019-20 record: 52-19
Divisional Finish: 1st Pacific
Projected 2020-21 lineup: LeBron James, Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol
Ja Morant nearly led the Grizzlies to the playoffs last season. Morant’s second season is bound to be even better. The young corps of Grizzlies players very well could get to the playoffs this season. The team is part of a very loaded Western Conference.
2019-20 record: 34-39
Divisional Finish: 3rd Southwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Justin Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
The Heat had a magical run through the Eastern Conference playoffs last season and nearly knocked off the Lakers in the Finals. The cohesive play of Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro was a sight to watch and will be on full display this season. Herro might start the season off the bench but for how long?
2019-20 record: 44-29
Divisional Finish: 1st Southeast
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Meyers Leonard, Bam Adebayo
Giannis Antetokounmpo is here to stay and now it’s time to bring the Bucks a championship. Antetokounmpo signed his contract extension and along with a newly acquired Jrue Holiday will be an interesting dynamic in the East. The reigning MVP will need to dig deep and play consistent basketball to actually make it to the Finals this time around.
2019-20 record: 56-17
Divisional Finish: 1st Central
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Jrue Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
You may find the Timberwolves playing with a different fervor this season. Karl-Anthony Towns has gone through tremendous family loss and is playing with a heavy heart. Anthony Edwards has the pressure of being the first pick, and veterans Ricky Rubio and D’Angelo Russell are called upon to give the team a boost this season. More than 19 wins is definitely feasible.
2019-20 record: 19-45
Divisional Finish: 5th Northwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Ricky Rubio, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Juancho Hernangomez, Karl-Anthony Towns
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
The Pelicans have a bit of a new look. Stan Van Gundy is the new head coach, Eric Bledsoe is the new shooting guard and Steven Adams is the new center. Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball will have to play larger roles if New Orleans wants to sniff the playoffs this season.
2019-20 record: 30-42
Divisional Finish: 5th Southwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams
NEW YORK KNICKS
It’s been a long time since the Knicks appeared to be making the right moves from head to toe, but this year could be the year of a turnaround. New general manager, new head coach and a rookie forward who is ready to play big-time basketball. Obi Toppin could make his way into the starting lineup at some point this season, and pairing him with R.J. Barrett could be fun to watch in New York this season.
2019-20 record: 21-45
Divisional Finish: 5th Atlantic
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Elfrid Payton, R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Thunder look depleted but played better than expected last season and snuck into the playoffs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the main player on this team. It will be up to him to control the offense, put some points on the board and hopefully keep Oklahoma City in striking position.
2019-20 record: 44-28
Divisional Finish: 2nd Northwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley, Al Horford
The biggest question this season will be surrounding how much longer Aaron Gordon will be on this Magic team. Gordon has one more year left on his contract, but should he be the only person contributing on a losing team, it begs the question of how much patience he has in him. First-round exits shouldn’t be the norm for someone who has been the face of the franchise for the last few seasons. The Magic could sneak into the playoffs again but it’s not going to be easy.
2019-20 record: 33-40
Divisional Finish: 2nd Southeast
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, James Ennis III, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
The 76ers have talked the talk but they haven’t walked the walk. Health has been a key factor in that. Ben Simmons has to find his jump shot and Joel Embiid can’t keep getting injured. The 76ers are built for a championship run but getting there is the battle. With Doc Rivers at the helm, could this be the year for Philadelphia?
2019-20 record: 43-30
Divisional Finish: 3rd Atlantic
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Ben Simmons, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
The Suns have loaded up and are locked into a playoff run. Devin Booker came into his own during the NBA bubble, and with the additions of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, maybe this team will post its first winning record since the 2013-14 season.
2019-20 record: 34-39
Divisional Finish: 3rd Pacific
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, DeAndre Ayton
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The Trail Blazers snuck into the round of eight last season thanks to the dynamic play of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Portland has always been a fun team to watch but just getting to the playoffs isn’t the goal this time around. Portland is going to have to dig down deep and make a really big effort to get back to the conference finals and into the NBA Finals.
2019-20 record: 35-39
Divisional Finish: 4th Northwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Derrick Jones Jr., Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic
The Kings have been one of the worst teams in the NBA for a long time. But you can’t count out the play of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield this year. Fox got paid big time in the offseason and is poised for a solid season. Sacramento shouldn’t be the pushover team many people consider it to be.
2019-20 record: 31-41
Divisional Finish: 4th Pacific
Projected 2020-21 lineup: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Hassan Whiteside
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs are still going to be a threat even if Demar DeRozan is the lone true star, and coach Gregg Popovich is to thank for that. San Antonio has a bunch of budding players who can make an impact but a second straight year of missing the playoffs in a highly competitive conference is possible.
2019-20 record: 32-39
Divisional Finish: 4th Southwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Demar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jakob Poeltl
The Raptors were the best team in the Eastern Conference last season and re-signed Fred VanVleet. Toronto could make waves in the East again but it’s going to take a lot. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam are going to be tough to deal with for any opponent. Can Toronto make it back to the Finals?
2019-20 record: 53-19
Divisional Finish: 1st Atlantic
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aaron Baynes
The Jazz had a crazy 2019-20 season, which came to a screeching halt when Rudy Gobert contracted the coronavirus. It ended with a first-round playoff exit in Florida. Now it’s time to reload and fight once more. Donovan Mitchell and the boys will at least get to play at home again. Is a bigger playoff push in the cards?
2019-20 record: 44-28
Divisional Finish: 3rd Northwest
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert
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The Wizards have two of the top stars in the NBA in Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. Washington acquired Westbrook in a trade for John Wall. Rui Hachimura is entering his second season, and they drafted Israeli forward Deni Avdija, who will likely start the season off the bench. Things are looking up for Washington.
2019-20 record: 25-47
Divisional Finish: 4th Southeast
Projected 2020-21 lineup: Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant