The NBA is all set to push through with its ambitious plan to restart the 2019-20 season in the Orlando bubble. Due to the global pandemic, this is a truly unprecedented event in the league’s history and one that could produce some unexpected upsets in the playoffs.
With that in mind, here are three talented teams who have actually benefited from the long break in play and now have the potential to burst some top contenders’ bubbles in Orlando.
Before the pause in play, the Rockets were in the middle of a fascinating experiment. They traded away big man Clint Capela and went all-in on their super small-ball line-up.
This change allowed Russell Westbrook, who’s had a brilliant debut season in Houston and has been one of the best point guards in the league once again, to raise his game to another level alongside superstar James Harden.
After the Rockets made the trade on Feb. 6, Westbrook averaged 31.7 points on 55 per cent shooting, with 8.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in 11 games.
That unusual line-up performed well at the start, but it lost steam near the end with four losses in their last five games which saw them drop to the No. 6 seed. Harden was in the midst of a major slump, perhaps due to the late-season fatigue that he has been known for in past years.
But because of the long break, Harden will be the freshest he’s ever been heading into the playoffs, which could see him have his best postseason to date. And even if he doesn’t dominate, Westbrook will be ready to step up and take over if needed.
That dynamic duo of Harden and Westbrook is as dangerous as it gets, and with the added wrinkle of their small-ball line-up, the SBOBET odds of Houston at 14.00 to win the title could pay off in a big way.
The 76ers have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season. They came into it with a lot of hype after acquiring Josh Richardson and Al Horford, who were supposed to make them the top challengers to the Bucks in the East.
But instead, Horford has had a hard time adjusting to his role in Philly, while the Sixers — currently the No. 6 seed in the East — have struggled mightily away from their home court. They’re just 10-24 on the road, by far the worst mark out of all current playoff teams in the league. That horrific form could get even worse inside the Orlando bubble.
However, it would be foolish to ignore the sheer talent on this team, one which was picked by many to be a likely title contender. Plus, the Sixers’ stars should all be relatively healthy, which is also a major positive in their favour.
Superstar big man Joel Embiid, whose health and fitness is always a major question mark, should be fresh and ready to go, while Horford’s niggling knee issues should be resolved.
Meanwhile, All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is set to return after a back injury that would’ve seen him miss the playoffs if not for the pandemic-induced pause in play, and he looks to be in great shape.
So while the NBA 2020 odds have Milwaukee as clear favourites in the East, a Sixers team that plays up to its immense potential could be the team with the best chance to beat the Bucks in Orlando.
Portland Trail Blazers
Like the Sixers, the Blazers haven’t had the season many expected, especially after reaching the Western Conference Finals last year.
However, much of Portland’s struggles this season have been due to injuries, especially to their big men. Starting centre Jusuf Nurkic has missed the entire year after suffering a horrific leg break last season while promising young big man Zach Collins also went down with a serious shoulder injury.
But the Blazers team heading to Orlando will be a much different team. Thanks to the break, both Nurkic and Collins have now fully recovered and will be back for the Blazers, which should provide a major boost for Damian Lillard and co.
Lillard has once again produced plentiful NBA 2020 highlights for Portland this season, averaging career-highs of 29 points and 7.8 assists per game. And as everyone knows, Dame Time also comes around during playoff time as he can deliver some amazing performances when they really count.
Of course, Portland still have to make the playoffs first. They’re currently 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed and are in a close fight with the Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs for the No. 9 seed, which could all lead to a play-in tournament.
But in Lillard, the Blazers have the best player of that bunch and with some big reinforcements coming, Portland will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
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