After four months of hiatus, the NBA is officially back. Throughout today and the rest of the week, there will be scrimmages being played before real games start on July 30th. While there are obvious favorites to win the championship this season, there are two teams that have been heavily slept on. These two teams that fly under the radar when discussing contenders are from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. So, without any delay, here are the two teams that are NBA Champion dark horses.
Eastern Conference: Miami Heat
The former 2 time NBA champs have been in somewhat of a grey area the past few years. Following the departure of superstar LeBron James in the summer of 2014, the Heat struggled to find their identity. While they had a number of playoff appearances, they never made it out of the second round. However, things have really changed in Miami this season, and it can be attributed to several things. The first major event to affect Miami was the arrival of All-Star Jimmy Butler. Butler is not only an All-Star player, but also an elite defender with an intense work ethic. This was seen when Butler arrived to a Heat practice at 3:30 AM when the practice started at 10:00. Butler’s work ethic has inspired his young teammates; as they see what is necessary to become an All-Star in this league. Another pleasant surprise for the Heat has been the emergence of Bam Adebayo as an All-Star. Adebayo had averages of 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists; showing off his versatility as a new age big man. As Adebayo continues to develop, with Butler as a mentor, there’s no telling what he is capable of.
The Impact of The Heat’s Young Core
Finally, the play of the Heat’s young players has been incredible. Miami has a very strong veteran presence, but the play of rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, along with second-year player Duncan Robinson cannot be ignored. Herro and Nunn have both shown flashes of All-Star level scoring throughout the season; as their combined stats equal out 28.5 points. The play of Duncan Robinson is should also be taken into consideration. The undrafted forward is an absolute sniper from the three point line, shooting almost 45% on the season. The Heat is a team full of players, both young and old, who know their role and their importance to their team. Don’t be surprised if this team finds themselves as the champion of the Eastern Conference or even the NBA Finals.
Western Conference: Denver Nuggets
Something most people forget is that the Denver Nuggets are a team that were considered championship contenders only a year ago. They only a game away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals last season. They finished 54-28, giving them the 2nd best record in the Western Conference. The team from the Mile High City is led by Nikola Jokic, a 7- foot center with point guard skills. Jokic has been the best player on the Nuggets for the past few seasons, and has orchestrated the Nuggets offense with efficiency. His bulky frame allows him to body defenders in the paint, but his shooting ability also helps him space the court. Jokic’s passing ability is among the greatest of all big men, as he averages almost 7 a game. Recently, Jokic has been spotted looking much slimmer, which will help his athleticism and conditioning a lot. Following the events of today’s scrimmage, where Jokic started at point guard, it is very possible that we will be seeing him play small ball more often.
The Play of Jamal Murray Affects the Nuggets’ Championship Hopes
Another major factor that will affect the Nuggets’ play will be the success of Jamal Murray. The 6’3 point guard from Canada was somewhat disappointing to Nuggets fans this season, as he was expected to make the jump to an All-Star, much like his peers. Last season Murray averaged about 18 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. This season saw almost no improvement throughout all his major stats, so Murray is going to have to be much more improved during the restart and into the playoffs. Earlier today during the scrimmage, Murray did not play, but it’s only a matter of time until we see if he has improved or not. If the Nuggets want to win a championship, they will need to have another All-Star level player to accompany Jokic; and Murray is capable of filling that role.
Overall, the Nuggets have an incredibly dangerous team that could definitely steal a championship. They have a great leader in Jokic and a solid second option with Murray. They have solid role players like Troy Daniels and Paul Millsap. Finally, the Nuggets have a very young and talented player in Bol Bol, who was amazing in his first game. The Denver Nuggets are a team that has some questions surrounding it, but if they are able to put their pieces together, they could take down the LA teams in pursuit of a championship.
Be sure to check out the Vendetta Sports Media YouTube Channel!