Lakers, Heat, Nuggets, Celtics. These four teams formed the last four of the 2020 Playoffs in the Disney bubble, with Los Angeles and Miami as finalists. Today ? There is only one team left in the race among those four at the end of the first round of the Playoffs, namely Denver. Curious coincidence isn’t it?
71 days. That was the exact length of the offseason for the Lakers and the Heat, the length between the 2020 NBA Finals in early October and the start of the 2020-21 season in late December. Quite simply, the shortest off-season in history. Difficult in these conditions to recharge the batteries, even more difficult to keep up with a campaign characterized by a condensed calendar as well as a very strict COVID protocol. But the Los Angeles and Miami franchises had to deal with it, while Boston and Denver – conference finalists in Orlando – were given a little extra fortnight’s rest. Given their career with Mickey, all these teams obviously had great ambitions this year, but three are already on vacation. In the Eastern Conference, the Heat and the Celtics were respectively sixth and seventh at the end of the regular season, before taking full price in the first round of the Playoffs. Miami? Swept 4-0 by Milwaukee. Boston? Outperformed by Brooklyn 4-1. The defending champions Los Angeles – seventh in regular terms and therefore forced to go through the play-in tournament like their historic rivals Boston – have just joined this group after their 4-2 loss to the Suns. So today all that remains is the Nuggets, who managed to get rid of the Blazers by winning their series in the first round of the Playoffs 4-2, after claiming their place on the podium in the West after 72 games.
The Lakers, Heat and Celtics obviously haven’t had the same season, but they’ve been through similar struggles. The COVID and its protocol necessarily, but that was for everyone, even if some franchises – including Boston – were affected more than others. And then the wounds obviously. LeBron James and Anthony Davis spent several weeks in the infirmary and weren’t 100% in the Playoffs, Jimmy Butler started the season missing 12 out of 18 games, and the Celtics ended their season with Jaylen Brown (who no did not play in the Playoffs at all) and Kemba Walker in the infirmary. So many absences, so much so that the Floridians and the C’s sometimes had to make do with a completely WTF major five and an eight-player rotation in the middle of the regular season. Complicated all that. While it is still difficult to prove the link between physical glitches and a lack of rest, these teams have stuck out their tongues this season to finally finish on the kneecaps. Worn out physically but probably also mentally, they could not repeat their 2020 route, which is ultimately not very surprising. So be careful, we don’t say that explains everything either, eh. We are not there to find excuses for them, and we can point the finger at questionable choices in terms of recruitment for each of these three franchises. But at the same time, it is probably no coincidence that the three of them are already on vacation today.
This leaves only Denver in the race, which has managed to do quite well in the regular season, even if the Nuggets have also been affected by a big injury, that of Jamal Murray. Opposed to the Suns, they will now try to regain their place in the Conference Finals to be the only representative of the last quartet of the bubble.