The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to return in Orlando on July 30 after a four-plus month hiatus. With it will come some major pressure for the top teams in the Association.
Can LeBron James lead his Lakers to a title? How will the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets perform after playing mediocre basketball earlier in the season?
These are among the five teams who will be under the most pressure when the season resumes at Walt Disney World in less than a month.
There’s a whole heck of a lot riding on the final eight regular-season games and the playoffs for Brett Brown and Co. First off, the head coach is firmly on the hot seat after an up-and-down pre-suspended portion of the season. In fact, general manager Elton Brand wouldn’t even commit to retaining Brown before the season was halted.
The larger story here surrounds All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The former has failed to expand his offensive game. Meanwhile, the latter stirred up some major drama with fans in Philly. At 39-26 on the season, the Sixers are currently the sixth seed back east. If they fail to make a deep run in the playoffs, major changes will be coming in October. That’s for sure.
One might even be able to conclude that the pressure is squarely on Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell to coexist after the drama we saw between the two this spring. The story is by now well known. Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 March 11, forcing the season to be suspended. The star center seemingly infected Mitchell with the virus. It’s not great behind the scenes in Salt Lake.
The backdrop here is a Jazz team that’s 41-23 on the season and posted a 28-12 record in its final 40 games before the hiatus. Utah is an underrated title contender out west. Though, an early exit from the playoffs could very well force the team’s brass to break up the Gobert-Mitchell duo.
What a strange, drama-filled season it has been for Brooklyn up to this point. It started with high expectations even with the belief that Kevin Durant would be sitting out the 2019-20 campaign. Fellow free-agent acquisition Kyrie Irving was primed for big things. Head coach Kenny Atkinson seemed to have a firm grasp on his job.
Fast forward several months, and Brooklyn heads to Walt Disney World boasting a 30-34 record. It is currently the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and not fully guaranteed of a playoff spot. Atkinson is out of a job. Center DeAndre Jordan contracted COVID-19 and will not return this season. Irving himself has struggled making a major difference. There’s certainly going to be a lot of pressure on this team come July 30.
General manager Daryl Morey made it clear. It’s championship or bust for the Rockets heading to Orlando. Given that the team is 40-24 on the season and tied for the fifth seed, those are some lofty expectations. Houston doesn’t have the size to bang with the big guys. Russell Westbrook was on and off in his first season with the Rockets prior to the campaign being suspended.
The backdrop is real here. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta does not have the deepest of pockets. Barring a deep run into the playoffs and a potential championship, he’s going to cut the fat off the roster come October. That’s only magnified by the economic downturn and revenue issues during the pandemic. Oh, and let’s not even focus on Mike D’Antoni’s job being on the line. Major pressure in Houston.
Los Angeles Lakers
It goes without saying that all eyes will be on LeBron James once the season resumes on July 30. After struggles in his initial season with the Lakers, the three-time NBA champ has the organization as the overwhelming favorite to come out of the Western Conference. The backdrop to this season was the unimaginable tragedy that struck the Lakers’ organization back in January.
Needless to say, James and new teammate Anthony Davis are going to want to be bring another title back to Southern California. The onus is certainly going to be on the two to do just that. If not, a season that has seen success, tragedy and a four-month hiatus will culminate in failure. That’s the truth of the situation in Los Angeles right now.