A normal NBA regular season is soon upon us. Well, at least as close to normal as we can get during these times.
The 2021-22 season will start in October and features 82 games, along with a full playoff schedule set to end in June.
Here's a look at what to expect as some semblance of normalcy creeps in around the league.
1. Brooklyn Nets: 57-25, playoff probability 100 percent
2. Milwaukee Bucks: 56-26, playoff probability 100 percent
3. Philadelphia 76ers: 51-31, playoff probability 100 percent
4. Miami Heat: 50-32, playoff probability 95 percent
5. Atlanta Hawks: 49-33, playoff probability 95 percent
6. Boston Celtics: 45-37, playoff probability 70 percent
7. Chicago Bulls: 44-38, playoff probability 60 percent
8. Toronto Raptors: 41-41, playoff probability 40 percent
9. Washington Wizards: 38-44, playoff probability 30 percent
10. Charlotte Hornets: 38-44, playoff probability 30 percent
11. New York Knicks: 37-45, playoff probability 25 percent
12. Indiana Pacers: 34-48, playoff probability 20 percent
13. Cleveland Cavaliers: 31-51, playoff probability 10 percent
14. Detroit Pistons: 25-57, playoff probability 0 percent
15. Orlando Magic: 22-60, playoff probability 0 percent
Barring injury, the East is a two-team race. The Brooklyn Nets are the overwhelming championship favorite, and for good reason. They're a deeper, healthier team than they were a year ago and employ James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving; no team is competing with them at full strength.
The Bucks deserve consideration as the defending champion, but they were taken to seven games by a hobbled Nets team last year. Milwaukee won the championship last season in part because the team was able to survive the injury-riddled season.
The more interesting portion of the East is the group of teams from 3-11, each of whom likely believe they're a couple good breaks away from making the conference finals.
The Sixers were the East's top seed last season but spent the summer in a state of disarray. Ben Simmons is still on the roster, and it doesn't appear anyone involved is particularly pleased with this development. If he doesn't show marked offensive improvement, things could sour quickly.
The Heat are determined to create the NBA's most expensive second-round team, adding Kyle Lowry and re-signing Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson to massive contracts. You have to appreciate Miami's willingness to push all of its chips to the middle of the table, but it's fair to wonder if it'll make a difference in a conference where the Nets reside.
The Hawks seem like a playoff lock after shockingly making the conference finals last season. That said, they made no real improvements to a roster that was a No. 5 seed last year. Maybe natural progression will kick in, but it's more likely they'll settle in as a mid-tier, fun League Pass team.
Seeds 6-11 all likely see themselves as being worthy of a higher conversation. The Celtics should be better after terrible injury luck last season; the Bulls shot their future cap space for a chance to chase a second-round exit; the Raptors were never as bad as last year's record.
And then there's the Knicks, last season's overperforming darling. They emphasized talent retention in bringing back Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks while also making a shrewd move to add Kemba Walker on the cheap. Evan Fournier's new four-year, $78 million deal was bad as soon as the ink dried, but you can forgive the New York brass for being a little overzealous.
I just see a hard mean regression coming.
1. Utah Jazz: 55-26, playoff probability 100 percent
2. Los Angeles Lakers: 53-28, playoff probability 100 percent
3. Phoenix Suns: 51-31, playoff probability 95 percent
4. Denver Nuggets: 48-34, playoff probability 95 percent
5. Los Angeles Clippers: 47-35, playoff probability 85 percent
6. Golden State Warriors: 46-36, playoff probability 75 percent
7. Dallas Mavericks: 45-37, playoff probability 75 percent
8. Portland Trail Blazers: 42-40, playoff probability 50 percent
9. New Orleans Pelicans: 40-42, playoff probability 35 percent
10. Memphis Grizzlies: 39-43, playoff probability 35 percent
11. San Antonio Spurs: 35-47, playoff probability 25 percent
12. Minnesota Timberwolves: 31-51, playoff probability 15 percent
13. Sacramento Kings: 30-52, playoff probability 10 percent
14. Houston Rockets: 24-58, playoff probability 0 percent
15. Oklahoma City Thunder: 20-62, playoff probability 0 percent
The Lakers are ancient, the Jazz can't exorcise their own playoff demons, and everyone else is hurt. Aside from the intact Suns, there's more uncertainty in the West than at any point in recent memory.
Let's start with the Lakers, who had themselves a doozy of an offseason. Your assessment of that will be 100 percent dependent on how well you feel Russell Westbrook can fit with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Some will view them as a superstar Big Three on par with the Nets trio, while others see a fiasco waiting to happen.
I'm somewhere in the middle, leaning toward the latter camp. For the regular season, things should be fine. Westbrook goes hard every single night and will win the Lakers some of those Tuesday night mid-March games.
The real issue will come in the playoffs, when spacing cramps and teams will have time to scheme the Lakers into some real nightmare offensive scenarios. This team feels like it's still a trade or two away, but it's hard to find one with the whole roster comprised of minimum contracts. The Lakers are going to regret allowing Alex Caruso and his salary slot to walk.
It's impossible to give an honest assessment of other contenders until we know their injury situations. Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray and Klay Thompson are all set to miss a significant portion of the season, and no one knows what they'll look like when/if they return. Their spots in the standings are mere placeholders at this point.