The Lakers enter the 2020-21 NBA season as the reigning champs but can anyone challenge them for the crown? The Crossover staff made their NBA Finals predictions.
Howard Beck: Lakers over Bucks
I’d love to get adventurous here. I really would. Nuggets-Heat! Blazers-Sixers! Clippers-Nets! But if the Lakers are healthy, I just don’t see any team derailing them. Certainly not in the West. The Clippers? Their funky chemistry and summer flop makes it hard to buy into them again. The Nuggets/Blazers/Jazz? Who among them can stifle LeBron and corral Anthony Davis? The Lakers did the near-impossible over the last two months – they won the title, then got even better, adding Dennis Schroder, Wes Mathews Jr. and Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell. They’re in their own tier. The East should be a dogfight, though. The Heat, Bucks, Nets, Celtics and Sixers can each make a plausible case. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them in the Finals. I’m going with the Bucks mostly because Giannis is too great to be denied again, and I believe transcendent talents ultimately prevail in this league. Of course, if a certain thick-bearded gentleman shows up in one of these cities, all bets are off.
Chris Mannix: Lakers over Nets
Congratulations, Lakers, LeBron fans—you have beaten me. After years of picking against James’s Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference and after suggesting last season LA was more likely to miss the playoffs than win a title, I’m done. It’s LeBron’s world, and it will continue to be into his age-36 season. The Lakers improved the cast around James and Anthony Davis (I especially like the Dennis Schroder-Danny Green swap) and while LA may not end the season atop the standings—easing the team back into it after a long bubble run will take a priority over wins early on—they should be loaded up for the playoffs. Kevin Durant has looked sensational in the preseason and the Nets will have an advantage come spring with two proven postseason scorers. It will be James vs. Durant again in the Finals and this year LeBron will come out on top.
Rohan Nadkarni: Nuggets Over Nets
For years now I've opted for chaos when it comes to my Finals pick. Did you really want to read a 100th person tell you why the Lakers are going to win after their incredible offseason? Denver is my darling and I have picked them to come out of the West for several years running. Nikola Jokic is the best center in the league, Jamal Murray made the leap in Orlando (he outscored PG and Kawhi combined in a Game 7!), and Michael Porter Jr. will be a shot in the arm/the dose of unpredictability this team needs to make it over the hump. The Nets are going to be really good, and they’ll be contenders with or without James Harden. I would love to see both Kyrie and KD back on the Finals stage, where both have thrived on multiple occasions. I think Denver’s chemistry would ultimately give them the edge in a series that’s almost certainly never going to happen. But somebody had to keep this interesting.
Jeremy Woo: Lakers over Heat
Maybe a Finals rematch is wishful thinking. But I like Miami’s chances, health pending, to make it out of the East again, with the continuity factor, abundance of shooting, and quality of the Butler-Adebayo duo giving them a strong backbone when the games start to matter. It’s hard to get all the way there on Brooklyn, although that could certainly change a month from now. Jrue Holiday will help Milwaukee, but it still feels like the Bucks need a true point guard, and he’s not that.
It’s also hard not to feel good about the Lakers’s chances on paper, after a positive series of offseason moves that should make them a more potent offensive team. But it’s not so much the new additions as it is the fact that none of the other Western Conference contenders did anything quite significant enough to change my mind. The Clippers are going to have to convince everyone all over again. Denver lost Jerami Grant and could take a step back defensively. Who else are you buying as contenders right now? It’s boring, but until further notice, the Lakers are the favorites, and nobody is going to lose sleep over it for a while.
Michael Shapiro: Lakers over Nets
I refuse to be fooled again by the Sixers, but let’s keep things fun and take Brooklyn as the Eastern Conference representative against the Lakers. Kevin Durant looks to be in All-NBA form after a near-600 day layoff, and this is a roster well-stocked with scoring options. There’s also the chance of a impact midseason acquisition. Consider Brooklyn the conference favorite if it can add a notable defensive piece in February or March.
Can anyone catch the Lakers out West? Perhaps the Clippers will mount a worthy challenge, but outside of the cross-town rival, it’s hard to see anyone really taking down LeBron James and Co. The defending champions are deeper than they were last year. Their dynamic duo is the league’s best. Expect LeBron to continue closing in on Michael Jordan with a fifth championship in June.
Ben Pickman: Nets over Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers feel like a far safer pick to reach this year’s NBA finals than the Brooklyn Nets. The Lakers are, of course, the reigning champions, and they enter the 2020-21 season after being among the busiest franchises this offseason. The additions of Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder and Marc Gasol should help L.A.’s bench and they will provide Frank Vogel and his staff with a number of additional appealing lineup options.
The Nets’ biggest offseason additions, on the other hand, come in the form of reinforcements returning from injury as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are set to begin their first full season together in 2020-21. Durant and Irving have the ability to match any other contenders’ to stars, but what sets Brooklyn apart from some of their foes is the depth of their roster. Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert provide Brooklyn with an additional two formidable, and proven, playmakers. Joe Harris is one of the best three-point shooters in the sport. DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen are both starting quality centers. Add in role players like Jeff Green, Taureen Prince, Landry Shamet and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and the Nets have one of the most complete benches in the entire league. The Lakers’ depth didn’t plague them in last year’s bubble, but don’t be surprised if in matchup featuring some of the sport’s biggest stars if Brooklyn’s countless high quality options make the difference in what would surely be a thrilling series.
Elizabeth Swinton: Lakers over Nets
The Lakers may deal with fatigue after a quick turnaround from last season, but as the NBA stands now, it is hard to see them being unseated in the West. The Clippers will likely be the Lakers' top challenger, pending they overcome chemistry issues and find their groove during the postseason. Meanwhile, if the Nets can stay healthy, they can be well-built to be the last team standing in the East. This could be the year the Bucks solve their postseason woes, but Brooklyn's offensive depth may be too much to overcome in the long run. A Lakers-Nets finals has the potential to be one of the more exciting and competitive title series in recent memory and would be a fun start to the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving era in Brooklyn.
Robin Lundberg: Lakers over Nets
It is hardly going out on a limb to pick the Lakers to repeat, as they still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and overall, the team got better. Meanwhile, when it comes to the East, a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving give the Nets more top flight talent than anyone. I think Lakers-Nets is easily the best finals the league could get from a matchup, starpower and storyline standpoint. And if all goes right, it may be exactly what they get.