Going into the 2019-20 NBA season, it felt like the 2020 NBA Finals were a wide-open field for the first time in a few seasons.
In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, and Utah Jazz all felt like serious championship contenders. And in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers all felt like they could make noise.
Now, as the league sits on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic with just about 20 games left in the regular season, it’s clear that the list of serious contenders is just three teams long. The Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks look to be the only teams capable of winning it all whenever the 2020 NBA playoffs come around and Rudy Gay actually feels the list is even smaller.
Gay believes the Lakers and Bucks are ahead of the curve in terms of championship contention, according to Wosny Lambre of The Athletic:
I don’t know, man. That’s the thing about the season, man, everybody could be beat. But I think as far as … because the most consistent (answer), Bucks or the Lakers. So those two teams. Bucks, last year, they didn’t do what they thought they would. And I know it takes a couple of years. You’re a really good team, it takes a couple years for you to actually get to the Finals, and I thought it might have been their year.
When asked why he left the Clippers off his list, Gay cited their lack of experience playing together:
Yeah, they (the Clippers) barely even played together all year, you know what I’m saying? So you’ve got to gel in the playoffs, especially if you’re getting all the way to the Finals. Most teams had done that, gotten together and played together to know each other. And I don’t feel like the Clippers have got enough experience together.
Largely due to their two wins over the Lakers, the Clippers were considered the favorites for the majority of the season. Even as they continued to trail the Lakers, people couldn’t get over the depth of talent the roster had.
However, it became clear in their loss to the Lakers they simply did not have enough chemistry to stand up to a team that had a clear and consistent game plan.
Perhaps Gay is in the minority, but it seems that players around the league know that chemistry really does mean something during a playoff run.