The 2019-20 NBA season isn’t slated to start until Oct. 22 when the New Orleans Pelicans will take on the defending champion Toronto Raptors and the L.A. Clippers will take on the new-look Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
That first matchup between the Lakers and Clippers is likely to be one of the most anticipated season openers of all time with LeBron James and Anthony Davis going up against Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
It’s possible the first game could be a preview of the 2020 Western Conference Finals. However, the unpredictability of the conference is at an all-time high after perhaps the most tumultuous summer in league history. Several top players — including Davis, George, Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul — found themselves on new teams either by virtue of a trade or free agency.
Because of all this, predicting the new season will be much harder than it was in previous years where giving the Golden State Warriors a championship put it at about a 60% shot of being correct. The Lakers — who feature two All-Star players as well as a host of good role players — ranked just fourth in ESPN’s annual NBA Summer Forecast in terms of likelihood of winning a championship:
Heading into 2018-19, the Golden State Warriors received every first-place vote in this category. Now there’s more competition, with the LA Clippers leading the way as the most likely NBA champion.
1. LA Clippers: 117 points (54.5% first-place votes)
2. Milwaukee Bucks: 85 points (36.4% first-place votes)
3. Philadelphia 76ers: 38 points (6.1% first-place votes)
4. Los Angeles Lakers: 29 points
5. Golden State Warriors: 15 points (3.0% first-place votes)
6. Houston Rockets: 11 points
7. Utah Jazz: 3 points
In this ranking, the Lakers were the highest-ranked team to not receive a single first-place vote. And based on how voting played out, it seems many ESPN voters felt that the Lakers losing to one of the Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers in the 2020 NBA Finals is a probability.
In the Western Conference standings forecast, the Lakers were put at 51-31, which would be good enough for the fifth seed. This forecast coming true would pit them against the Utah Jazz in the first round, followed by a matchup against the one-seeded Denver Nuggets or eighth-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the second round.
It’s clear the Lakers garnered enough respect from ESPN to be given the fourth-best odds at a championship but right now, all the hype is with the Clippers — who were given the conference’s second seed and the best odds to win it all. That Opening Night matchup may have more at stake than any other in recent history.