NBA 2020-21 Season Preview: Five Under-The-Radar Title Contenders

Could any of these teams unseat LeBron James' Lakers?


December 11, 2020

We’re not too far away from the NBA’s opening tip.

The league’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin Dec. 22., a mere 72 days after the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat in Orlando to claim the NBA Championship. The upcoming season is expected to feature 72 regular-season games with the NBA Playoffs to follow.

With that, we’re turning our sights to the 2020-21 NBA Finals. Is any team capable of beating LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers?

Of course, it wouldn’t be much fun to ride with the favorites, so we’re going to stay away from the Lakers, the crosstown Los Angeles Clippers, as well as the Eastern Conference’s Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. Based on some consensus data, it seems those four teams have the best prices to win the title.

So, here are five under-the-radar contenders who we think could make a run at the title:

Portland Trail Blazers
Portland is a true underdog to win, possessing 30-to-1 odds. Those prices probably have quite a bit to do with the fact LeBron looms large in the West, but Portland continued to make moves this offseason. After finishing last season as the No. 8 seed and a first-round exit at the hands of the eventual champion Lakers, Portland acquired Robert Covington from Houston.

Covington will be a massive addition next to a finally-healthy Jusuf Nurkic while Damian Lillard, who has played at an NBA MVP level each of the past few seasons, and CJ McCollum will man the backcourt. Don’t sleep on Portland.

Boston Celtics
Despite the departure of Gordon Hayward in free agency, the Celtics have 15-to-1 odds to win the NBA title. It’s in large part due to the rise of All-NBA wing Jayson Tatum and teammate Jaylen Brown. The pair are complemented by All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Marcus Smart.

Boston also made a few key additions this offseason with the signings of point guard Jeff Teague and big man Tristan Thompson. The pair should help the Celtics’ depth, once Walker is able to return from a lingering knee issue.

Golden State Warriors
The Warriors were dealt a brutal blow with All-Star guard Klay Thompson tearing his Achilles on NBA Draft night. Thompson will miss his second consecutive season, having torn his ACL in the 2019-20 NBA Finals. It had an obvious impact on Golden State’s title odds, getting 5-to-1 before the injury while now in the neighborhood of 20-to-1.

The reality is, though, that Steph Curry and Draymond Green are still in Golden State with the Warriors selecting James Wiseman No. 2 overall in the 2020 draft. The Warriors also will feature versatile wings Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. while signing ex-Celtics backup guard Brad Wanamaker in free agency. With an NBA MVP candidate in Curry, it’s certainly possible the Warriors could get hot at the right time.

Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets were one of the most fun teams to watch last season, finishing with a run deep in the Western Conference playoffs after overcoming a pair of 3-1 deficits. Oddsmakers may have take notice, as Denver enters the 2020-21 season +2200, the fourth best in the West.

The tandem of do-it-all center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray, along with wing Michael Porter Jr., provide the Nuggets with a young and talented core. Bringing back veteran Paul Millsap on a one-year deal was a solid move, too.

Philadelphia 76ers
Head coach Doc Rivers entering the scene was just one of Philadelphia’s smart offseason moves. The 76ers, who enter the campaign with 20-to-1 odds to win the title, added a solid 3-and-D contributor in Danny Green and another player who could space the floor in Seth Curry. Those players should help drive-first-and-drive-only guard Ben Simmons.

Additionally, nobody has got more out of Tobias Harris than Rivers did during his time with the Los Angeles Clippers, so perhaps they’ll finally get him playing up to his contract. Oh yeah, and Philadelphia added Dwight Howard to backup up center Joel Embiid. It’s certainly a talented group, but will come back to the same thing it always does: Can they mesh together?

Thumbnail photo via Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports Images
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