The NBA season is shaping up heading into 2022, though teams have been struggling amid the pandemic as fresh COVID-19 concerns have seen many players placed in health and safety protocols as a new wave of infection continues to plague the world of sports.
Nevertheless, the league has kept things going, with games aplenty. And a look at the current standings could give us a fair idea of how things could look come playoff time.
The Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors are the heavy hitters in the Western Conference and it appears the fight for dominance will be between them and not involve the Los Angeles Lakers as was predicted by most analysts and bookmakers offering NBA betting lines at the beginning of the term.
The Lakers started the season as the favorites to win the West, as well as second favorites for the NBA Championship but have since dropped behind the Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks and the Suns at 10/1. Where the conference is concerned, the Warriors are favored at 5/2 while the Suns are 4/1. The Utah Jazz, third in the West at the Moment, are also ahead of Los Angeles in the favorites column at 15/4.
The Lakers’ odds have widened to 10/1 there as well, while the Denver Nuggets are right behind at 12/1. The Lakers will also be without Anthony Davis for an extended period following the big man leaving Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies as the result of a knee injury. The team has announced Davis has suffered an MCL apron and will be re-evaluated in four weeks’ time. Of course, Davis’ absence could affect the team’s ambitions and LeBron James, who has been showing signs of wear and tear as of late, will have to contribute even more.
Another change that could become a decider in the conference happens to be the impending return of Klay Thompson to the Warriors. The sharpshooter could resume playing in early January after being out for two seasons after tearing his left ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals and then his right Achilles during a workout last November.
"I don't know how exactly it's going to pan out right now," head coach Steve Kerr said. "I know that when we get back from this trip, I'll put my head together with Rick's and Klay's and we'll talk about it and Bob and we'll see where everything stands. But I know he's doing great. He was in Santa Cruz this week and had a couple good days there, so it's all going along smoothly, but we don't have a date yet."
The Nets have taken charge of the Eastern Conference, having gotten listed as favorites for the championship the moment the Bucks were crowned winners earlier this year. They have not disappointed even after deciding to be without Kyrie Irving. The All-Star point guard hasn’t played a single game this season following his decision to refrain from getting vaccinated against COVID-19 but will be back soon.
The Nets initially decided not to keep him on as a part-time player given that he could have played away games outside of New York but they have since relented, and have allowed him to return for away fixtures and practices.
“We’re trying to be practical. And I’ve always said I don’t want to make this a political issue,” team owner Joe Tsai told the New York Post on Friday after news of Kyrie potentially returning broke. “My only religion is to win games and win the championship. That’s where we are.”
“So I think a lot of people that are either pro-vax or anti-vax people are mad at me for taking one stance or the other. But I have said from the very beginning I’m not taking this as a political thing,” Tsai added. “I’m doing this to help the Brooklyn Nets win a championship. That’s the thinking.”
The Nets are the 13/5 favorites to go all the way this season but they know it won’t be a walk in the park. The Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers are surprisingly good this season - well, not so much Chicago as they brought Billy Donovan in as head coach while also acquiring DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball. Alex Caruso has also come in as an important piece and the Bulls, who rank second in the East, have made a bid to be taken seriously.
Of course, the Miami Heat are always going to be in the conversation. The 2020 NBA finalists have been doing well enough without key stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. They have also had to make do without livewire third-year man Tyler Herro while Markeiff Morris has been out since getting shoved in the back by Nikola Jokic in early November.
It goes without saying, but the Bucks shouldn’t be counted out either. They are the reigning champs until someone knocks them off and will make an impact on the playoffs come next year.