The NBA has set a target start date of July 31 to resume (and hopefully finish!) the 2019-20 season. Whether that means going straight to the playoffs or not remains to be seen; what we do know is that the best players and teams in the league will be back on the court, and it is time to start talking about actual basketball once again. Let's take a look at the top eight title-contending teams in the league now that we can finally look toward the resumption of the season.
8. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz just crack the list thanks to a 41-23 record, but this team has a lot to work through after Rudy Gobert served as NBA's patient zero for COVID-19. He was careless, and drew widespread criticism in the wake of the news, especially after teammate Donovan Mitchell was himself infected. The only hope here is that this team can simply lock in, go to work, and play hard. These guys have to put that unfortunate incident behind them, though playing mad might be a wild card that produces a few wins early.
7. Boston Celtics
Kemba Walker replaced Kyrie Irving this season, and the result is that the Boston Celtics currently sitting in the third spot in the East. Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown form a dynamic trio, and all three are averaging over 20 points per game. Gordon Hayward follows with 17.3 points per game, and this appears to be a complete team given all their depth on the wing. However, Walker will have to prove he can perform in the postseason, and the young core will have to step up after an early postseason exit last season.
6. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat are a fascinating team. Jimmy Butler is the star, while Bam Adebayo has emerged into quite the talented big man. It is easy to forgot the team also added Andre Iguodala before the shutdown, who provides invaluable experience to the roster. Butler has only appeared in 54 of the team's 65 games, making their 2.5-game deficit behind the Celtics in the standings not look too significant.
5. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets earned a No. 2 seed in last year's playoffs and are currently third in the West with a 43-22 record. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray combine for an average of 39 points per game, and Paul Millsap has had several huge games this season. The question is, however, whether the team has enough star power to win a title. They were only one game away from the Western Conference Finals last year and had a hot start this season as well; perhaps playing in neutral venues after a long layoff will even the playing field and help the Nuggets take that next step.
4. Toronto Raptors
The defending champions lost Kawhi Leonard, yet still remain near the top of the standings. The Toronto Raptors are second behind the Bucks with a 46-18 record in the East, and did not have the dropoff many expected. Pascal Siakam has shined in Leonard's absence, and Kyle Lowry is doing what he has always done. Fred VanVleet has also earned a bigger role, and the experience from winning a title has clearly helped Nick Nurse's team. That type of confidence is hard to tear down. Speaking of Leonard...
3. Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi joined the Los Angeles Clippers and immediately made the team a Finals contender. Paul George joined him as well, and the Clippers own the second seed in the West with a 44-20 record. Leonard and George are both averaging over 20 points per game and destroying opponents on the defensive end, while Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have formed quite the duo off the bench. This long layoff should actually help the Clippers, as the All-Star duo of Leonard and George have missed a lot of time this season due to injury concerns and load management. Getting back to full health makes the Clippers a scary team, with the only question being that extra pinch of chemistry.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks sit atop the overall NBA standings with a 53-12 record. They essentially had the East wrapped up and Giannis Antetokounmpo was having another MVP season with an amazing 29.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game. Khris Middleton is another legitimate star, and the Bucks have four players averaging double-digit scoring. They have an argument to be atop this list, but playing in the easier Eastern Conference knocks them down one spot.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James and Anthony Davis form arguably the best duo in the NBA. Both men had the Los Angeles Lakers on track to win the West, as they currently own a 5.5-game lead over the Clippers with a 49-14 record. King James is certainly no stranger to the Finals, and there is no reason why he can't still dominate with the unique circumstances in place to finish this season. He has that ability to focus singularly and dominate on the big stage with the flip of a switch, and is also the best player of his generation. Surrounding him with Davis, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, and a resurgent Dwight Howard keeps the Lakers as the team to beat.