The NBA concluded the first half of the season Sunday in Atlanta when Team LeBron won a fourth consecutive All-Star game that many players wished did not happen during a condensed season that has forced some games to be postponed because of COVID-19 issues.
While the pandemic presented its own challenges for the league and players, the teams that were expected to be contenders for the championship the Lakers now hold remain the favorites.
In the Western Conference, the Lakers and Clippers remain the top contenders despite being third and fourth, respectively, in the standings behind league-leading Utah and second-place Phoenix.
The thought is that the brilliant duo of LeBron James and a healthy Anthony Davis, who has missed 14 games this season, will make the Lakers too powerful to overcome while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two of the most dominant wing players in the league, will pull the Clippers into a Staples Center showdown in the West finals.
In the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers has the 76ers playing at a high enough level to be first in the East, just ahead of superstar-laden Brooklyn, which picked up former All-Star Blake Griffin over the weekend. The Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and defending conference champion Miami Heat also should be in contention.
The question is which team will impose its will if the 76ers and Nets meet in the East finals?
Philadelphia center Joel Embiid has become a superstar and Ben Simmons is on the cusp, but can Embiid be the dominant force inside over the supremely talented Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden from the Nets?