Top 4 NBA Contenders This 2020−2021 Season

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The 2020−2021 NBA season is a third of the way through, which means now is a great time to predict the likely winner of the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s because most teams have played at least 30 games already — just about enough to make sense of their identity, break down their strengths and weaknesses, and see their depth. At this point, four teams have separated themselves as legit title contenders: the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Philadelphia 76ers.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the way, were dominant in their title run last year, combining strong offense (115.6 offensive efficiency rating) and a suffocating defense (107.8 defensive rating). Not much has changed this year, with the Purple and Gold scoring 112.9 points per game while allowing just 105.8 points an outing.

LeBron and AD are leading the charge once more, but are getting plenty of help from newcomers Dennis Schroder (13.9 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists) and Montrezl Harrell (13.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks) and holdovers Kyle Kuzma (11.0 points, 6.1 rebounds), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8.5 points, 2.2 rebounds), and Alex Caruso (5.6 points, 2.4 rebounds). Barring major injuries, the Lakers look poised to repeat last season.

Brooklyn Nets

With Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, the Nets have arguably the most potent Big 3 ever assembled in the history of basketball. Early returns have been erratic, but the firepower is undeniable. The Nets Big 3 are averaging over 80 points a night, which should be enough ammunition to win any 7-game series against any team in the league.

So it is no wonder that Brooklyn is ranked second only to the Lakers in the NBA championship odds on Bwin Sports and ahead of the next team on this list the Los Angeles Clippers. With Durant (29.0 points, 5.3 assists), Irving (28.3 points, 5.7 assists), and Harden (23.9 points, 11.3 assists), scoring won’t be a problem with these Nets, especially in the postseason where big-game shot-makers are a premium. Their defense will need some work, though a decent D might suffice given Brooklyn’s firepower.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers, not the Lakers, were tabbed as the team to beat last season. Unfortunately, they imploded in the postseason, losing a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets. Then LA’s other team replaced Doc Rivers with Ty Lue, then lost the aforementioned Harrell to the Lakers. But they retooled thereafter, adding stretch big Serge Ibaka, 3-and-D wing Nic Batum, and sweet-shooting Luke Kennard.

All three additions have been strong in complementing the superstar duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, with Ibaka (11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds) stretching the floor and anchoring the Clippers defense, and Batum (9.7 points, 45.6 3PT% ) and Kennard (8.0 points, 44.2 3PT%) strong on the offensive. Add to the mix the always-reliable Lou Williams (12.2 points, 3.9 assists), the improving Ivica Zubac (8.3 points 6.5 rebounds), and the explosive Reggie Jackson (8.3 points, 3.2 assists) and the Clippers have the depth to win it all this season.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers were swept by the Boston Celtics in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, but that team had obvious flaws. Most notable of these flaws was the lack of outside shooting, which allowed defenses to stonewall the paint and limit the efficiency of big man Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons.

This season the 76ers seem to have balanced out their lineup, adding shooters Seth Curry (12.6 points, 47.3 3PT%) and Danny Green (8.5 points, 36.4 3PT%) to play alongside Embiid (29.6 points, 10.8 rebounds) and Simmons (15.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists). Tobias Harris (20.7 points, 42.5 3PT%) rediscovering his form has also been a welcome development, as he gives the 76ers that much-needed secondary scorer come playoff time. Lots of things need to go right for this team, but the talent to win the title is definitely there.

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