Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo knows what you might think about this year’s NBA champion. Playing in a so-called “bubble” environment in Orlando without fans or homecourt advantage after a four-month hiatus because of the onset of the novel coronavirus in March, it would be easy to chalk up the remainder of this year as invalid. No doubt, the atmosphere there will be weird.
The league clearly is coming back to help offset revenue losses and with several players backing out of the NBA return for a variety of reasons—and more expected to do the same—it will be hard to look at this year as anything but a money-grab and a one-off. Whichever team wins a championship will be saddled, at least in the minds of fans, with an asterisk.
Not so fast, Antetokounmpo said. The winner of this bizarre season perhaps deserves more respect than other champs.
“I feel like a lot of people say that there’s gonna be a star next to this championship,” Antetokounmpo said according to Sporting News. “I feel like, at the end of the day, this is gonna be the toughest championship you could ever win — because the circumstances are really, really tough right now. So whoever wants it more is going to be able to go out there and take it.
Five Teams LIkely Have a Chance at Championship
The Bucks are one of the three top favorites to win this year’s NBA championship. They are 53-12 and have control of the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They’re second on the board, according to OddsShark.com, at +290.
The Lakers, who split their two games with Milwaukee this season, will enter the Orlando reset as the favorite, at +190. The team has tinkered heavily with the roster since it was last in action, adding J.R. Smith to replace Avery Bradley and still anticipating the debut of guard Dion Waiters.
The Clippers are only slightly behind the Bucks for the No. 3 spot, at +300.
The biggest challenge for the Bucks in the East figures to be Boston, which had trouble staying healthy throughout the season but should return with its full complement of players. The Celtics are +1,200 on the betting board, the No. 4 favorite.
The Rockets have climbed, too, as many around the NBA see them as a potential darkhorse in the West. Houston has the ability to play isolation basketball better than anyone in the league and given the odd circumstances of this NBA reset, that will be an advantage. While other teams will be looking to establish chemistry, the Rockets really don’t need chemistry. They’re +1,500.
Health, Focus WIll be Key to Winning in Orlando
It would be a shock if the league’s next champion did not come from that group of five teams. But for whoever wins it, an asterisk awaits. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer agrees with Antetokounmpo—that’s not exactly fair.
“I feel like the champion from this experience, from this season, I think is going to be more worthy and probably more special than any [other] champion,” Budenholzer said.
Antetokounmpo did express some concerns over his health and that is the looming issue over the NBA’s attempt to push forward. Players will be especially susceptible to COVID-19 should the infection penetrate the bubble.
“My job is to play basketball and go out there and support my teammates and represent the city,” he said. “But for sure, I think me, my teammates, my family — especially my mum — everybody has concerns about our health, and my health.”
Putting aside all the outside concerns could be one of the keys to winning it all, though. The Bucks have not won a championship since 1971 and were last in the Finals in 1974. That’s a strong motivator for Antetokounmpo.
“Whoever wants it more, whoever is mentally prepared for all this, what’s going on in Orlando, that’s the team that’s gonna come out on top,” he said.