Are LeBron’s Lakers the team to beat in the NBA this season?

Just two months after Los Angeles Lakers got the better of a Jimmy Butler-inspired Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, we’re back to do it all over again.

After the pandemic-hit season in 2020, there will be just 72 rather than 82 regular season games this campaign, but will the Lakers come out on top once again?

There’s still some trades to tie up – James Harden we’re looking at you – plus the return of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry from injury. But we examine if LeBron James can guide his team to another chip or if this season really is anybody’s game…

What made the Lakers so good in 2020?

LeBron James put the Lakers on his back. Arriving in 2019, James had to ride out a transitional year before he could really have a big say in recruitment in 2020.

Anthony Davis came in and averaged 26.1 points all season. Davis became the Robin to James’ Batman and the pair struck up an instant connection on and off court.

Davis’ trade saw a raft of players leave Lakers but the one who stayed, Kyle Kuzma also stepped up alongside Rajon Rondo and Markieff Morris. But quite simply when LBJ is on form, it’s hard to stop him getting what he wants.

What’s different in 2021?

Quite simply, Lakers have a stronger roster this time. A.D made the Laker Nation sweat before signing his lucrative five-year contract earlier this month.

Lebron James & Anthony Davis

While Power Forward Montrezl Harrell has arrived from cross-city rivals Clippers and Point Guard Dennis Schroder was traded from Oklahoma City Thunder to challenge Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

They may have lost the likes of Rondo, Dwight Howard, and Danny Green but the experienced pair of Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews could be inspired pick-ups.

Lakers are 11/4 favourites to retain their title. It’ll be hard to stop them.

Who are the main challengers to their crown?

Brooklyn Nets – 11/2

Their closest challengers could be the refreshed Brooklyn Nets led by the all-star pair Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

The latter was forced out of the 2019-20 season through injury but is expected to help mount a serious charge this time round.

They’ll be coached by NBA Hall of Famer Steve Nash in his debut season in the hot seat but if Durant can repeat his dominance in a Golden State Warriors jersey then the Lakers could get nervous.

LA Clippers – 6/1

After their collapse in the Western Conference semi-finals against the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers must right some wrongs in 2021.

Coach Doc Rivers departed and they brought in his assistant Tyronn Lue as Head Coach. You can never write them off with 2018 Finals MVP and two-time champion Kawhi Leonard alongside Paul George.

Raptors’ forward Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris’ arrival will bolster them but failing to reach the Conference Final would be considered another big failure for the franchise.

Milwaukee Bucks – 6/1

After signing a bumper new contract, the Bucks boast the two-time regular season MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for many years to come.

The Greek Freak has been the stand out performer dragging his side to an Eastern Conference final in 2019, while his semi-final Game 4 injury against Miami Heat curtailed another strong season in 2020.

This time around he’s joined by classy guard Jrue Holiday, but they may rue the failure to get the deal for Bojan Bogdanovic over the line.

Last year’s finalists Heat are the underdogs again at 14s, while the Warriors are 20/1. This may change when the long-running Harden saga ends. Will he make the move away from Houston Rockets?