Giannis Antetokounmpo, even after injuring his knee in the conference finals, led the Bucks to their first title in 50 years last season. He was the NBA Finals MVP and was the focal point around the team’s run through the Finals over the Phoenix Suns.
Milwaukee also brings back Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez to the starting lineup.
There are few formidable challengers in both conferences. But here are five who could really make a run and dampen the Bucks’ hopes of repeating as champions.
John Collins said before the start of the season that Kyrie Irving’s absence from the Nets could end up hurting the team. He said he felt like the Hawks were “real contenders” for the NBA title. He’s not wrong.
Trae Young played a big part in why the Hawks got to the Eastern Conference finals, only to lose to the Bucks last season. Having Young, Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela and a healthy De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish will make Atlanta legit NBA title contenders.
Any team with LeBron James is going to battle for the title. Injuries to James and Anthony Davis cost the Lakers down the stretch last season. The team limped into the playoffs only to be doused by the Suns. James is likely to be healthy for the season and so is Davis.
The team added Russell Westbrook to the mix in the offseason. Though his player efficiency rating was down from 2019-20 to 2020-21 and he missed out on an All-Star appearance for the first time in six seasons, Westbrook still averaged a triple-double. Having anyone on the team do that will certainly increase your chances of winning the title.
Denver has the reigning NBA MVP in Nikola Jokic, a potential star in Michael Porter Jr. and a full season of Aaron Gordon. The Nuggets could also get Jamal Murray back during the season as he recovers from a torn ACL. Denver has been among the top teams in the Western Conference for a few years, and its window to win is as big as it’s going to be.
The Celtics looked like they could beat the Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season. The team didn’t get the best play from Kemba Walker, and Jaylen Brown was hurt. Walker is gone, and Brown is healthy, and if Robert Williams and Marcus Smart continue their hard play, the Celtics could turn heads and may make a run to the title out of the East.
Kevin Durant’s foot was the difference between the Nets moving onto the conference finals and watching their opponents win the championship. Even as Kyrie Irving’s season is in flux, the team still has James Harden and a deeper bench to make the Nets one of the best teams in the league.