The year 2020 is coming to a close and it was one of the wildest years of my life for sure. In a year that saw the Los Angeles Lakers return to glory, there were also many other interesting moments that made this NBA season both tragic and amazing.
5. Contenders fall by the wayside
Entering the 2019-20 season, many fans and analysts alike, including myself, thought that contenders such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers would be making deep playoff runs. Early on it looked like this would be true, as the Bucks raced out to the best record in the Eastern Conference, while the Clippers settled comfortably into the top three in the West. But then, on March 11th, the season was disrupted due to COVID-19, halting the momentum for both. After eight regular-season contests in Orlando, the playoffs began and both teams looked comfortable. Giannis and the Bucks knocked off the Orlando Magic with relative ease in five games, while the Clippers survived a scare from Luka Doncic and the Mavericks to win in six. But that was as far as both teams would advance. Milwaukee got slapped early and often by Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, losing in five games despite being the top seed. While Kawhi and company looked like they would roll the Denver Nuggets, jumping out to a 3-1 series lead before choking and losing the series in seven games. It was a tough end to the year for both franchises, but both teams revamped in the shortened off-season and are looking to bounce back and find glory in 2021.
4. The cinderella run of the Miami Heat
I had predicted the Miami Heat to finish eighth in the East and get bounced in the first round... boy was I ever wrong about this bunch. There were a variety of reasons why I was so wrong about this team and why they proved the doubters wrong. Jimmy Butler, often considered a "bad teammate" by the media, truly led this bunch and proved he is a top talent in the league joining an elite group of just three other players to ever lead his team in points, rebounds and assists in an NBA finals. Then we saw Bam Adebayo go from solid up-and-coming center to an NBA All-Star and NBA All-Defensive Second Team and become this team's true second star. Having young pieces like Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn all emerge was also something very few people saw happening. Finally, mixing in veteran presences like Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder made this team a defensive monster that could shoot the lights out any given night. The Heat entered the playoffs as the fifth seed, sweeping the Pacers and dismantling the Bucks in five. Their series with Boston was incredibly fun to watch, but the Heat prevailed in six games. But that is as far as they would go, as injuries to Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic proved to be too much to overcome in the NBA Finals against LeBron and Anothony Davis. If this past year showed me anything, it is that Pat Riley is one of the greatest executives in history and the Miami Heat will be a problem for years to come.
3. The NBA enters the bubble while tensions rise country-wide
The NBA season was rolling as usual until skidding to a halt on March 11th, when Rudy Gobert became the first player to contract COVID-19 and subsequently touch all the microphones in a press conference as a joke (dumb decision, Rudy). The NBA acted immediately, suspending the NBA season until they could figure out a way for basketball to be played in a safe environment. This took time, as many meetings were had between Adam Silver, owners and the players before they came up with an idea. That idea was the NBA bubble at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. They invited nine teams from the East and 13 from the West to come and fight it out for a spot in the NBA playoffs and a chance for a title. Eight regular-season games took place in the bubble, with Portland and Orlando winning the chance to be the two eight seeds. Once the seeding was set, the playoffs took off without a hitch on the COVID front. The NBA players also took this as an opportunity to speak out about the Black Lives Matter movement, using their unique platform to bring awareness to an important issue. Games were played, a championship was won, no players tested positive for COVID in the bubble and the players were able to use their platform to create change. This was a huge win for all involved.
2. The tragic loss of Kobe and Gianna Bryant
Even writing this paragraph now it feels so surreal that the NBA lost one of its greatest players and ambassadors in Kobe Bryant. I will never forget the message I received from a friend saying "Kobe Bryant died today" and the hours of disbelief that followed. Then the details started to come out, some true, some false. When all was said and done, nine people had died, including Kobe and his daughter Gianna. The aftermath of this news was a difficult time for many, especially former teammates or mentors of Kobe. We saw what an incredible man Kobe truly was, not just on the basketball court, but in business and as a father as well. This was a dark time for me as well, given that I grew up idolizing Kobe as both a basketball fan and a player myself. The Mamba Mentality was real and to lose someone so impactful at such a young age was incredibly tough for the NBA and basketball community as a whole. League-wide, team after team paid tribute to Kobe, including good friend, LeBron James, who spoke about Kobe prior to the first game at Staples Center after his passing. This leads into the biggest storyline of the year, as on that night LeBron vowed that the Lakers would win the title for Kobe and his family.
1. Lebron captures title number four
LeBron James would not be denied this year, as he delivered on his promise to bring a championship to the Los Angeles Lakers organization. Back in 2019, the Lakers were heavily criticized for how much they gave up trading for Anthony Davis, but boy did he prove to be worth it. The Lakers jumped out to the top seed in the Western Conference and very quickly the "LeBrOn CaN't Do It In ThE wEsT" stans went away. They faced some struggles on their journey to the title, whether it was Danny Green going ice cold in the playoffs or Avery Bradley opting out of going to the NBA bubble. That being said, they also had players step up, especially in the postseason. Rajon Rondo created fits for the Houston Rockets in the conference semi-finals and continued to roll the rest of the way as well. Then in the NBA finals, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dwight Howard stepped up in a big way and the Lakers got the much-needed depth that they were asking for coming into the playoffs. People will point to the no fans, not facing the Clippers or even the Miami Heat players getting hurt as the reason the Lakers won, but all of that is just conjecture. At the end of the day, LeBron James and Anthony Davis got the job done. And because of that, the Lakers hoisted their 17th title in team history and no one can take that away from them.
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