The 2021 season is upon us and many fans are looking towards the playoffs already. After all, the regular season is important but the postseason is where legacies are made and created. The Los Angeles Lakers once again won the NBA title in 2020, equaling the Boston Celtics for the most NBA rings in history with 17 total championships.
To predict the new season, it is time to rank the top ten contenders for the NBA championship in 2021. While some of the teams are easy favorites, others might make a surprising inclusion and could shock the world to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy next June.
10. Houston Rockets
Starting off the best candidates for the 2021 NBA championship are the Houston Rockets. Of course, their entire season depends on whether James Harden stays or goes, but they have a solid roster in place. John Wall is not as good as Russell Westbrook, but he has a chance to prove he is still one of the best point guards in the NBA.
Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins were massive pickups for the Rockets, and if James Harden decided to stay, Houston could be one of the biggest surprise teams that can possibly progress past the second round of the playoffs.
9. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are the dark horse team in the East. They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and very well could do it again. Jayson Tatum is slowly becoming a superstar player, which means the Celtics will be in contention for the next few years.
Losing Gordon Hayward was a major loss even if he wasn’t a consistent starter for the team. He could play in the Celtics system and could play as a playmaker and scorer, so Boston will miss his services. Still, Tristan Thompson is a massive upgrade at the center position on defense and the Celtics will look to make the Eastern Conference Finals again in 2021.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers acquired Doc Rivers, who is a massive upgrade over Brett Brown. Rivers is a coach that proved he can handle superstars’ egos with the Boston Celtics and has a track record of getting a locker room intact.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are two All-Stars who are hungry to prove they can deliver success for Philly together. Philly have the pieces to contend but needs more work on the supporting cast. Tobias Harris must have a bounce-back season or else Philly might be facing another early playoff exit.
7. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors were overlooked last season, and they managed to make it to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Pascal Siakam struggled during the second round of the playoffs and made it clear to Raptors Universe that they need more help. Kyle Lowry is a great leader for the team and Fred VanVleet is a very effective 2-way guard.
If the Raptors can acquire another star player or if O.G. Anunoby can take a massive step up, they can be a threat for the Eastern Conference crown. For now, they are looking like a team that will be lucky to progress past the second round after losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol.
6. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets are not going anywhere, especially with Michael Porter Jr having an entire season under his belt. The Nuggets have Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray as well, making Denver one of the best teams in the conference right now. The Nuggets can still make moves to acquire a third star, as they might need more help after losing Jerami Grant.
The Nuggets seem to always be lacking another scorer on the perimeter, and time will tell if they can make shrewd moves to help Murray and Jokic win an NBA title together. For now, they are just outside the top-5 best teams with a chance to sneak into the Western Conference Finals.
5. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat shocked the world by making the NBA Finals in 2020. Jimmy Butler should not be overlooked as an MVP candidate this season, and Bam Adebayo is one of the best centers in the NBA right now. The only problem with Miami is that other teams in the East improved while the Heat opted to re-sign Goran Dragic to a pretty big contract considering his age.
The Heat seem to be running it back with last year’s rosters although they replaced Jae Crowder with Avery Bradley. Miami will likely be a threat for the Eastern Conference Finals unless they find a way to acquire James Harden from Houston, which catapults them to a likely NBA Finals appearance.
4. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets are going to be a massive problem in the East. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are legitimate superstar players when healthy, and they have all the advantages to win the East.
They have the assets to acquire a superstar like James Harden or Bradley Beal should they become available, or run it with the roster they currently have. Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are very talented players who can play off Durant and Irving, and expect Brooklyn to make major noise as a top-2 team in the East in 2021.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers still have Kawhi Leonard, which means they will be a factor in the West. After finishing second in the West last season, the Clippers are running it back with Leonard and Paul George. They lost Montrezl Harrell to the Lakers, meaning there is a big hole left in the Clippers roster.
The Clippers did a fantastic job by signing Serge Ibaka and trading for Luke Kennard, but all eyes will be on Paul George and head coach Ty Lue. Doc Rivers is gone and Paul George needs to have a bounce-back season or else Clippers fans will be asking for a massive roster overhaul.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks are the most favored team to make the Finals in the East. Giannis Antentokounmpo is the MVP of the league and could very well be a three-time consecutive MVP Award winner in 2021.
He has the most talented skillset right now, mainly because LeBron James will play a secondary role for the Lakers this season. Giannis is capable of carrying the Bucks to the Finals on his own, and the addition of star Jrue Holiday makes the Bucks the best team in the East.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers will most likely be NBA champions again in 2021. After all, the title is theirs to lose. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still two of the five best players in the world, and the Lakers improved dramatically with the signings of Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder and Marc Gasol during the offseason.
The Lakers have the most talent, all the momentum, and all the confidence in the world to dismantle teams on the road to the NBA Finals. Everything is in favor for them to win back-to-back titles, surpass the Boston Celtics with 18 championships while LeBron adds his 5th NBA ring.