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NBA Power Rankings – The races and players we’re watching closely in the final week

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The NBA play-in tournament races — more importantly, the races to stay out of the play-in — sure make the regular season’s final week compelling.

The Miami Heat took a huge step in securing their top-6 seed — and avoiding a spot among Nos. 7 to 10 — by defeating the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics on Sunday. The teams will meet again Tuesday night.

The defending champs, however, find themselves in the thick of the battle. Despite Sunday’s double-digit win over the Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers remain one game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the sixth seed with four games remaining.

Let’s get our final regular-season look at where all 30 teams stand and take stock of the seeding and lottery races, players and storylines we’re watching the closest ahead of the 2021 postseason.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Royce Young and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20

1. Utah Jazz
2020-21 record: 50-18
Previous ranking: 2

The silver lining to the extended injury absences of All-Star guards Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley has been Bojan Bogdanovic responding to the increased offensive responsibilities by getting into by far his best groove of the season. Bogdanovic has averaged 28.1 points on .576/.479/.905 shooting splits over the past seven games, highlighted by his career-high 48 points in Friday’s win over the Nuggets. Utah has gone 6-1 during that stretch to keep the NBA’s best record. — MacMahon

This week: @GSW, POR, @OKC, @SAC


2. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 record: 47-21
Previous ranking: 3

The Sixers have all but clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, giving them an easier path to the NBA Finals — by only having to beat either the Bucks or the Nets to get there — and an opportunity to rest players over these final few games. For a team that’s been dealing with some nagging injuries to all of its stars of late, that extra down time could make a big difference. — Bontemps

This week: @IND, @MIA, ORL, ORL


3. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 48-20
Previous ranking: 1

As Phoenix maintains its push for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, Chris Paul continues to do Point God-like things. Twice in the past week, Paul had games with at least 10 assists and zero turnovers: On Tuesday, he had 16 assists and zero turnovers against Cleveland; and he registered 11 assists and no turnovers against the Knicks three days later. It was the 44th and 45th time in Paul’s career he has had a game with 10-plus assists and zero turnovers. That’s the second-most such games since 1977-78, when turnovers became an official stat, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The only player with more such games in that stretch? Muggsy Bogues with 46. — Lopez

This week: @GSW, POR, @SAS, @SAS


4. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 record: 44-24
Previous ranking: 4

James Harden hasn’t played since April 5 because of a hamstring injury, but the star remains “very confident” he’ll return before the postseason. Harden said the plan is to play “a couple games” prior to the opening round, which would slot his return sometime this week, because the Nets only have four games left. — Young

This week: @CHI, SAS, CHI, CLE


5. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 43-24
Previous ranking: 6

Five straight wins have Milwaukee in position to claim the second seed in the East — presuming it can keep pace with Brooklyn. The two teams enter this week tied in the loss column, though Milwaukee has to play five games as compared to Brooklyn’s four. The Bucks, on the other hand, hold the tiebreaker. Given the second seed comes with the chance to host a potential second-round series against Brooklyn, there’s every reason for the Bucks to push to the finish. — Bontemps

This week: ORL, @IND, MIA, @CHI


6. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 44-24
Previous ranking: 5

Denver has stumbled of late, losing three of its past four games. But the Nuggets’ losses were all close ones to the Lakers, Jazz and Nets. Leading MVP candidate Nikola Jokic missed three shots inside in the final minute against Brooklyn, but he has scored 30 or more in four of his past seven games. Denver owns the tiebreaker over the Clippers but trail them by one game for the third seed entering the final week of the season. Like the Clippers, the Nuggets finish the season on the road, playing at Charlotte, Minnesota, Detroit and Portland. The Nuggets hope to get healthier before the postseason, with Monte Morris and Will Barton out and Aaron Gordon sitting out their more recent out with a calf issue. — Youngmisuk

This week: @CHA, @MIN, @DET, @POR


7. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 45-23
Previous ranking: 7

The Clippers are getting closer to full strength, and that is a good thing, because they aren’t close to playing their best basketball right now. They looked like they were stuck “in mud,” as Kawhi Leonard put it, after Sunday’s home loss to the Knicks And they have lost four of their past six as they hit the road for the final four games of the regular season. Leonard admitted he has a hand issue to go with the foot injury he recently returned from. But Serge Ibaka could finally be nearing a return, as he could join the team on the trip. While the Clippers are battling the Nuggets for the third seed, Ty Lue’s biggest goal is to get everyone on the same page, figure out the rotation, develop chemistry and improve the defense entering the playoffs. — Youngmisuk

This week: @TOR, @CHA, @HOU, @OKC


8. New York Knicks
2020-21 record: 38-30
Previous ranking: 8

Sunday’s win against the Clippers at Staples Center allowed the Knicks to remain in fourth place in the East by themselves, one game ahead of the Hawks and the Heat. New York continues to defy its skeptics. And if it can win another game at Staples on Tuesday against the Lakers, the Knicks will have to feel good about their chances of at least hanging onto either the fourth or fifth spot in the East — and, as a result, avoiding having to face any of the East’s top three seeds in the first round. — Bontemps

This week: @LAL, SAS, CHA, BOS


9. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 40-28
Previous ranking: 10

Kristaps Porzingis has missed the past six games due to soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, which is particularly concerning considering he has never finished an NBA season healthy. Coach Rick Carlisle anticipates Porzingis will return before the end of the regular season but says he isn’t sure when. The Mavs have still gotten major production recently from the deal that brought Porzingis to Dallas, as Tim Hardaway Jr. has averaged 27 points and shot 52.5% from 3-point range over his past six games. — MacMahon

This week: @MEM, NOP, TOR, @MIN


10. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 39-29
Previous ranking: 11

Portland has won seven of its past eight contests, and within that stretch, Damian Lillard is averaging 33.8 points on 52% shooting. The Blazers’ slump a few weeks ago had a lot of reasons behind it, but the overarching issue was that Lillard wasn’t producing at his standard. Since then, the power of Dame was possibly on display on a bigger-than-basketball level, with him tweeting about wanting fans in Portland’s home building — and having his wish granted a few days later. — Young

This week: HOU, @UTA, @PHO, DEN


11. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 38-30
Previous ranking: 9

Anthony Davis looked as good as he has looked all season — even better than he did before his right leg injuries — in games against the Blazers and Suns to end the week. While L.A. lost a close one to Portland, Davis still put up 36 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and a block. Two nights later, in a dominating win over Phoenix, Davis notched 42 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, with three blocks and three steals, becoming the first player in franchise history with such a stat line. With LeBron James and Dennis Schroder both expected back on the court sometime this week, the Lakers might have a postseason run left in them yet. — McMenamin

This week: NYK, HOU, @IND, @NOP


12. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 37-31
Previous ranking: 13

Miami comes into the week in a tie for fifth in the East with the Hawks — and just a game behind the Knicks for the fourth spot. (The Heat also own the tiebreaker over New York.) As he did throughout their bubble run last season, Jimmy Butler looks primed to play some of his best basketball when it matters most. Butler scored 26 points and dished out 11 assists in Sunday’s win over the Celtics, and he is averaging 24.3 points over his past six games. — Friedell

This week: @BOS, PHI, @MIL, @DET


13. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 37-31
Previous ranking: 12

A big part of Atlanta’s start to the season was dealing with a slew of injuries. And it could get another addition back soon. De’Andre Hunter has played in just two games since Jan. 29, but he is listed as questionable for Monday’s contest against Washington. In 20 games (18 starts) this season, Hunter is averaging 16 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 50.2%. How coach Nate McMillan uses Hunter at this point in the season remains to be seen. When Hunter returned for two games in mid-March, he came off the bench. — Lopez

This week: WAS, WAS, ORL, HOU


14. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 35-33
Previous ranking: 15

The Stephen Curry show just keeps rolling along. Curry scored 49 points in 29 minutes during Saturday’s win over the Thunder, and he looks primed to carry the Warriors into the play-in tournament. The Warriors — who have won 11 of their past 16 — come into Monday’s showdown with the Jazz just half a game ahead of the Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. — Friedell

This week: UTA, PHO, NOP, MEM


15. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 35-33
Previous ranking: 14

Sunday’s loss to the Heat pushed Boston far closer to taking part in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament. If the Celtics lose to Miami again on Tuesday, their trip to the play-in will be all but assured. Beyond that, the Celtics will be hoping that Jaylen Brown (sprained ankle) and Robert Williams III (turf toe) will be healthy by the time their play-in or playoffs begins. — Bontemps

This week: MIA, @CLE, @MIN, @NYK


16. Washington Wizards
2020-21 record: 32-36
Previous ranking: 18

Russell Westbrook continues to be a man on a mission and can set the new mark for most triple-doubles in a career this week, starting Monday at Atlanta. But he will have to do so without Bradley Beal, who will be out with a hamstring strain and could miss more games. Beal was injured on Saturday, but Westbrook did it all to help the Wizards beat the Pacers twice in a week to move into ninth in the East by half a game. (Washington owns the tiebreaker over Indiana.) With two huge consecutive games at Atlanta and then home games against Cleveland and Charlotte, the Wizards are amazingly one game out of eighth behind the Hornets. — Youngmisuk

This week: @ATL, @ATL, CLE, CHA


17. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 record: 34-33
Previous ranking: 16

Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting in Saturday’s win over the Raptors during his first start of the season. Jackson has struggled to find his shooting touch after missing the vast majority of the campaign while recovering from meniscus surgery; he is shooting only 27.3% from 3-point range, a drop of more than 12% from last season. Jackson and fellow franchise cornerstone Ja Morant have played only 134 minutes together this season. — MacMahon

This week: NOP, DAL, SAC, SAC, @GSW


18. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 record: 33-35
Previous ranking: 17

Charlotte comes into the final week clinging to a one-game lead for the eighth spot over the late-charging Wizards. Terry Rozier continues to provide a big offensive lift for the Hornets, posting 73 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists over his past two games. With Gordon Hayward (foot) still out, Rozier has to keep delivering to help Charlotte secure the eighth spot — especially given the Hornets have a brutal four-game stretch to close the season (Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Wizards). — Friedell

This week: DEN, LAC, @NYK, @WAS


19. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 32-35
Previous ranking: 19

The Spurs have lost six of their past seven games, and their final five don’t get any easier. They have a home outing against Milwaukee and a trip to take on Brooklyn and New York, before returning home for two games to close out the season against the Suns, who are fighting for the top seed in the West. San Antonio trails Memphis by two games in the fight for the ninth seed and are 2.5 games back of Golden State for eighth, while maintaining a 1.5-game lead on the Pelicans for the 10th and final spot in the play-in tournament. — Lopez

This week: MIL, @BRK, @NYK, PHO, PHO


20. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 record: 31-36
Previous ranking: 20

Indiana averaged 136.5 points in its two games against the Wizards last week — and went 0-2. Despite their scoring output, the Pacers lost 154-141 at Washington last Monday and then fell 133-132 in overtime on Saturday. Despite getting his shot blocked at the end of the second Washington game, it might have been Caris LeVert‘s best week as a Pacer. He had three 30-point games and averaged 28.3 points, 7.0 assists and 6.8 rebounds in four tilts. — Lopez

This week: @CLE, PHI, MIL, LAL, @TOR


21. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 record: 31-37
Previous ranking: 22

So you’re saying there’s a chance? The Pelicans are just 1.5 games back from the Spurs with four to play (five for San Antonio). However, New Orleans is dealing with absences to Zion Williamson (fractured left ring finger) and Brandon Ingram (left ankle sprain). Ingram was listed as doubtful prior to Sunday’s win over the Hornets, so he could return by the end of the three-game trip (at Memphis, Dallas and Golden State). The Pelicans said Williamson will be out indefinitely. — Lopez

This week: @MEM, @DAL, @GSW, LAL


22. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 record: 30-38
Previous ranking: 23

The Kings’ inexplicable season continued with a 28-point blowout win over Oklahoma City on Sunday. Sacramento is now 6-2 since De’Aaron Fox, their best player enjoying the best season of his four-year career, went out due to health and safety protocols. The late surge has kept a faint glimmer of hope alive for the Kings’ playoff chances. They trail the Spurs by 2.5 games for the final play-in spot in the West with four games left to play. — McMenamin

This week: OKC, @MEM, @MEM, UTA


23. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 record: 29-39
Previous ranking: 24

Zach LaVine is finally back for a Bulls team that is clinging to faint play-in hopes and sits three games behind the Pacers in the loss column for the final spot in the East play-in tournament. LaVine’s reemergence, after missing close to a month because of COVID-19 protocols, will likely leave the Bulls wondering what might have been if he had been able to stay on the floor. LaVine dropped 30 points and six assists in Sunday’s win over the Pistons. — Friedell

This week: BRK, TOR, @BRK, MIL


24. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 record: 27-41
Previous ranking: 21

Toronto is playing out the string, spending what (hopefully) will be its final week without being able to play at Scotiabank Arena before heading into the offseason. It’s been a frustrating and disappointing season for the Raptors, who have dealt with myriad injuries in addition to having their season derailed by COVID-19 shortly before the All-Star break. Now, they’ll be hoping to find some lottery luck next month. — Bontemps

This week: LAC, @CHI, @DAL, IND


25. Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 record: 21-47
Previous ranking: 25

The Wolves broke their three-game losing streak by obliterating the Magic on Sunday. Over the past 30 days, the Wolves are 8-7 and showing serious signs of progression. Among the biggest is Anthony Edwards‘ late-season Rookie of the Year push. The No. 1 pick dropped 42 on an absurd 17-of-22 shooting against the Grizzlies last week, and he has been demonstrating the kind of night-to-night consistency the franchise hopes pushes it toward playoff contention. — Young

This week: @DET, DEN, BOS, DAL


26. Orlando Magic
2020-21 record: 21-47
Previous ranking: 27

Here are some positives for the Magic as they head into the final week of the season: Rookie point guard R.J. Hampton scored 19 points in Saturday’s loss to the Timberwolves, and he has scored in double figures in six straight games; and center Mo Bamba combined for 50 points and 48 rebounds during a three-game stretch last week. — Friedell

This week: MIN, @MIL, @ATL, @PHI, @PHI


27. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 record: 20-49
Previous ranking: 28

The Pistons have kept Jerami Grant out of the lineup in 12 of their past 18 games with knee soreness as they keep their spot toward the bottom of the standings. They’re now tied with Minnesota for the second-worst record in the league at 20-47. Grant’s vacated touches gave rookie Killian Hayes an opportunity against Chicago on Sunday, and he filled up the box score with 21 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds — and 7 turnovers. — McMenamin

This week: MIN, DEN, MIA


28. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 record: 21-47
Previous ranking: 26

The Cavs’ 124-97 loss to the Mavericks on Sunday was Cleveland’s 10th straight defeat. With four games left on the schedule, the Cavaliers are flirting with losing 50-plus games for the fourth time in their last seven seasons when LeBron James wasn’t on the roster. — McMenamin

This week: IND, BOS, @WAS, @BRK


29. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 record: 21-48
Previous ranking: 29

With another blowout loss on Sunday, the Thunder’s league-worst net rating sunk even lower, to minus-10.4. But that doesn’t tell the story of how truly dreadful the Thunder have been following the All-Star break. Since then, the Thunder’s net rating is — brace yourselves — minus-16.1. The team they’ve fielded since the break has a legitimate case as the worst in NBA history. Put another way: Per ESPN Stats & Information research, the Thunder have been outscored by 490 points in their past 25 games, the worst margin of defeat by any team in any 25-game span in NBA history. — Young

This week: @SAC, UTA, LAC


30. Houston Rockets
2020-21 record: 16-52
Previous ranking: 30

The Rockets are so ravaged by injuries that players on 10-day contracts step right into rotation roles. Guard Khyri Thomas responded by averaging 21.5 points on 57.1% shooting in a back-to-back on the first two nights of his deal. Houston has the league’s worst record by four games, assuring the Rockets of maximizing their lottery odds, meaning they will have a 52.1% chance of keeping their top-4-protected pick, instead of shipping it to the Thunder in a three-way swap for the Heat’s first-rounder. — MacMahon

This week: @POR, @LAL, LAC, @ATL

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Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul, 36, ready to ‘get back to work,’ not considering retirement after NBA Finals loss

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MILWAUKEE — The closest Chris Paul has ever got to the coveted championship that’s eluded him throughout his 16-year career ended up leaving him feeling still so far away from that initial title. The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, as the Suns became just the fifth team in Finals history to lose after starting the series up 2-0.

“It will take a while to process this or whatnot, but it’s same mentality,” Paul said after the Bucks’ 105-98 series clincher. “Get back to work. I ain’t retiring, if that’s what you’re asking. That’s out. So, back to work.”

The 36-year-old Paul finished with 26 points on 11-for-19 shooting and five assists in the championship finale, keeping the Suns in striking distance of Milwaukee — they trailed by just four points with 1:14 remaining — but it wasn’t enough to force a Game 7 back in Phoenix.

“Right now, you’re just trying to figure out what you could have done more,” Paul said. “It’s tough. Great group of guys, hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”

Paul has a player option worth $44.2 million for next season, and while plenty of contenders around the league could use a point guard of his ilk to make a push next season — hello, Los Angeles Lakers — he didn’t sound like someone looking to leave a team stocked with young talent like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton that took him two wins from the promised land that quickly.

“Everybody in that locker room knows we had enough, but it wasn’t enough,” Paul said. “So, we got to figure it out. I think for me, I just look at myself and figure out how can I get better, what I could have done more and make sure I come back next season ready to do it again.”

With the loss, Paul became the first player in league history to lose four playoff series in which his team held a 2-0 lead. But his coach, Monty Williams, pushed back against any criticism directed at his point guard after their shared Finals disappointment.

“It’s laughable when you talk about guys like Chris who have had these unreal careers and yet they get penalized because they haven’t won a title,” Williams said. “That was my goal, was to win it for him and Book; those guys have carried us all year long. And Chris, this is my second time coaching him; I know what he puts into his craft, I know the dedication. And so when I hear those sentiments about his career because he hasn’t won a championship, it’s just silly. It’s hard enough to make it to the NBA, let alone be an all-time great, which is what he is.”

Booker, who dropped two 40-point games in the series but struggled in Game 6 with 19 points on 8-for-22 shooting and six turnovers — including going 2-for-7 in the fourth quarter, when the Bucks pulled away after it was tied 77-77 after three — said the Suns’ playoff run set a new standard for the franchise.

“Championship basketball and nothing less than that,” as Booker described it, after Phoenix made the postseason for the first time in 11 years. “So, going into next season on a Tuesday night playing against Cleveland, if we don’t have it, we will be quickly reminded about the details. And if you don’t want to give it your all right now, what can happen and this feeling right now that we’re feeling can happen.

“So, this isn’t something you want to feel. I haven’t felt a hurt like this in my life. So, that’s what I say when I know we have a base and a foundation, just championship basketball at all times.”

Williams fought back tears during his postgame remarks when asked what it was like in the moment to process the result of a Suns season that fell just short.

“I think it’s going to take me a minute,” Williams said, his voice getting caught in his throat. “I just don’t take it for granted. It’s hard to get here, and I wanted it so bad, you know. It’s hard to process right now. It’s hard. That’s all.”

Summing up the alchemy of the Suns group, however, it wasn’t all sorrow for the team that ousted the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, swept league MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, eliminated the LA Clippers and gave the Bucks all they could handle with a title on the line.

“Even though we lost,” Ayton said as he bounded out of the interview room, “it was still fun.”

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Brooklyn Nets open as 2021-22 NBA title favorites; Lakers, Bucks next

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Fresh off seeing an NBA champion crowned Tuesday night, oddsmakers have posted the Brooklyn Nets (+225) and Los Angeles Lakers (+400) as the betting favorites for the 2021-22 season.

The champion Milwaukee Bucks, who wrapped up the franchise’s first title since 1971 with a six-game Finals victory over the Phoenix Suns, have the next shortest odds at +900.

“This season, the Nets and Lakers drew so much more money than any other team,” Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill U.S. director of trading, told ESPN, reinforcing how liability on popular teams will always drive odds.

Bogdanovich also indicated that talent is a factor.

“In a normal year, if those guys stay somewhat healthy, they definitely figure to be the best team,” Bogdanovich said of the Nets.

Perennial All-Stars Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving played only eight regular-season games together for Brooklyn. The Nets’ playoff run was disrupted in the Eastern Conference semifinals when Irving suffered an ankle injury and Harden battled a hamstring injury. They ultimately lost to the Bucks in overtime of Game 7.

In recent years, free agency has played an enormous role in the futures market. Sharp bettors have occasionally caught oddsmakers off guard, anticipating significant signings and pouncing on long odds, but this summer figures to be relatively quiet. Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul both can become free agents, as they hold player options on their current contracts. However, Leonard will be coming off surgery for a torn ACL, and Paul is 36.

“We are anticipating that there will be more impact in the trade market than the free agent market,” Las Vegas SuperBook assistant manager and head NBA oddsmaker Jeff Sherman told ESPN. “Who knows if [Damian] Lillard is going to get dealt. If he ends up getting traded, then that would be bigger than any free agent out there.”

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons could also be traded, given how his postseason shooting struggles contributed to the conference’s top seed losing in seven games to the Atlanta Hawks in the East semifinals. The Sixers (18-1) would undoubtedly receive talent in return.

Phoenix reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 and nearly cashed as title longshots in the neighborhood of 50-1. However, the Suns won’t sneak up on oddsmakers this time with 15-1 odds, which are the fifth-shortest.

“I don’t know what Chris Paul has left in the tank,” Bogdanovich said. “[Devin] Booker and [Deandre] Ayton are great to build around. This year was no fluke.”

The Golden State Warriors (10-1) did not even reach the playoffs, but they hold the fourth-shortest odds. Sharpshooter Klay Thompson is expected to return from an Achilles injury, and the Warriors could package their two lottery picks for a top-tier established player that would help them compete in the short term. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry is 33, and three-time All-Star Draymond Green is 31.

The preseason betting favorite has won the NBA title in four of the past six seasons. Over the past 35 seasons, only four teams have won the championship with odds of 15-1 or longer.

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NBA world has changed since the Milwaukee Bucks’ first NBA title

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The Milwaukee Bucks are the 2020-21 NBA champions and have won the second title in franchise history. Entering this season, Milwaukee’s 49-year championship drought was the fifth-longest among active franchises.

Led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Roberson, the Bucks’ 1971 title marked the quick championship for a true expansion team in North American sports (three seasons). Milwaukee’s 66 wins during the 1970-71 regular season remain a team record.

Over the last three seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo has earned regular season MVP honors twice, won finals MVP and was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2019-20. Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only other NBA players to earn all three accolades over their career.

With Milwaukee’s newest title now secured, let’s reflect on some notable changes across the NBA since the franchise’s first championship run.

1976: League Expansion & ABA/NBA merger

In 1974, the New Orleans Jazz were admitted to the NBA as an expansion team. Then-rookie guard Pete Maravich, who remains the all-time leading scorer in Division-I hoops, led the team with 21.5 PPG in its inaugural season.

On August 5, 1976, the NBA merged with the rival ABA by absorbing the New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers from the latter league. Overall, between expansion and the merger, 13 franchises joined the NBA since Milwaukee’s 1971 title.

1979: 3-point line is introduced

The league first experimented with the 3-point line on a one-year basis, but it has become an offensive staple since its inception. Teams combined for 64 total 3-pointers during the 1979-80 season.

For context, this past April, Stephen Curry‘s 96 3-pointers set an NBA record for the most by any player over a calendar month. His 2,832 triples trail only Ray Allen’s 2,973 for the most in league history.

1984: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar passes Wilt Chamberlain in scoring

Over his 20-year career, Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook proved plenty effective in paving his way toward The Big Dipper’s all-time scoring mark.

On April 5, 1984, Abdul-Jabbar used his patented shot in front of a Las Vegas crowd to reach 31,420 career points. His career total of 37,387 remains the NBA record. Likewise for his regular-season MVPs (6) and All-Star appearances (19).

1992: Team USA goes for Olympic gold with pro players

For the first time in history, FIBA allowed NBA players to participate in Olympic tournaments following Team USA’s bronze medal finish in 1988. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were among 11 eventual Hall of Fame players who led Team USA’s 1992 return to gold.

The Dream Team defeated opponents by an average of 43.8 points per game. Its closest contest was a 32-point victory over Croatia in the gold medal game.

1996: The WNBA is introduced

On April 24, 1996, the NBA Board of Governors approved the concept of the Women’s National Basketball Association for play to begin the next year. The league’s eight teams were divided into the Eastern Conference (Charlotte Sting, New York Liberty, Cleveland Rockers and Houston Comets) and Western Conference (Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Starzz).

Houston won the WNBA’s first four titles. The 2020 champion Seattle Storm’s fourth championship tied the Comets and Minnesota Lynx for the league record.

1998: End of Jordan-era Bulls

Thanks to Jordan’s iconic top-of-the-key game-winner to cap the 1998 Finals, Chicago clinched its second three-peat over an eight-year span, capping one of the most dominant runs in NBA history. Jordan’s six finals MVPs and 10 scoring titles with the Bulls remain NBA records to this day.

That same year, Kobe Bryant became the only teenager in league history to participate in the All-Star Game. His 33,643 career points surpassed Jordan for the most by any guard and currently rank fourth all-time.

2002: Lakers complete 5th three-peat in league history

Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers eventually secured the fifth and most recent three-peat in NBA history. Shaquille O’Neal joined Jordan as the only players to win three consecutive finals MVP awards. Head coach Phil Jackson finished his career with the most championships.

Over that three-year run, the Lakers led the NBA in regular-season win percentage (.736). That figure improved to .776 in the playoffs, including a 15-1 mark over the 2001 postseason.

Also in 2002, Lisa Leslie became the first woman to dunk in a WNBA game. Michelle Snow, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner and Elizabeth Cambage have since joined her.

2008: The Redeem Team claims gold

Following its bronze finish at the 2004 Summer Games, USA Basketball revised its selection process to pursue gold once again. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski led a roster comprised of reigning NBA MVP Kobe Bryant and 10 other All-Stars.

Dwyane Wade led the Redeem Team in scoring average (16.0) as the squad defeated opponents by an average of 27.8 points per game. Its average age of 26.0 years is second-youngest among seven U.S. Olympic Teams formed with NBA players since 1992.

2016: LeBron and the Cavaliers overcome 3-1 deficit against 73-9 Warriors

Led by the first-ever unanimous MVP in league history, the 2015-16 Warriors entered the postseason with the best record in NBA history (73-9). In fact, after snapping a 40-year title drought, Golden State became the first team to avoid consecutive losses over an entire regular season.

After overcoming a 3-1 deficit to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors became the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Finals MVP LeBron James became the first player in NBA history to lead all players in a playoff series in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.

2019: Toronto Raptors win first title in team history

Golden State bounced back by signing Kevin Durant and winning consecutive titles in 2017 and 2018. The Toronto Raptors, fresh off five straight playoff appearances, traded All-Star DeMar DeRozan for Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who led the franchise to its first-ever NBA title.

Leonard joined James (Heat, Cavaliers, Lakers) and Abdul-Jabbar (Lakers and Bucks) as the only NBA players to win finals MVP with multiple franchises.



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