NBA season preview: Milwaukee Bucks can win the championship again, if the Greek Freak stays fit

Four contenders for the 2021/22 NBA championship will tip off the new season on October 19. There is a great level of optimism for the upcoming season; but who will claim the Larry O'Brien trophy?

The 75th anniversary season of the NBA tips off on October 19, as the Milwaukee Bucks take on the Brooklyn Nets (October 20 00.35 BST)

But who will lift the The Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy at the end of the marathon season in June 2022?

Planet Sport tipsters stick their neck on the block and deliver their verdict and top selections on who will triumph and who'll fall by the wayside.

(The odds in the text links are correct at time of publication, the odds in the pretty blue boxes are bang-up-to-date)

Top selection: Milwaukee Bucks to win NBA again

The Bucks won the championship last season off the back of Giannis Antetokounmpo's historic Finals MVP run against the Phoenix Suns. 'The Greek Freak' averaged over 35 points and 13 rebounds per game, as well as 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks - as we say: historic.

Despite winning his first chip, Antetokounmpo still has so much hunger to succeed and go back-to-back.

Mike Budenholzer has proved himself as one of the best coaches in the league, Khris Middleton is the perfect Robin to Giannis, and Jrue Holiday was arguably the best pick-up for any team last year.

Holiday's aggression and consistency on defense - as well as a solid output on the offensive end - made a huge difference, after Eric Bledsoe did not work out.

The grit that P.J. Tucker added will be missed, but re-signing Bobby Portis is huge after the year he had. The additions of Grayson Allen, George Hill, Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood won't do the Bucks any harm, either.

The only worry about the Bucks is an obvious one. If Giannis gets hurt, they will not win the championship. As good as Middleton, Holiday and Brook Lopez are, they are not good enough to carry a franchise to a chip.

Antetokounmpo injured his knee in the Eastern Conference Finals and has admitted to still feeling soreness. Perhaps he will sit out a lot more games this year, but he doesn't come across as that sort of player.

At 17/2, they are the best bet, but it hinges heavily on one man staying healthy.

The favourites: Brooklyn Nets (23/10) Los Angeles Lakers (10/3)

These ball clubs are favourites for a reason, they are absolutely stacked. The Nets have one of the greatest 'big threes' the NBA has ever seen in James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Last season these guys only played 13 games together (10-3 record) and their possible lack of cohesion was a large talking point. However, if they play a lot more together, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Irving's stance on the Covid-19 vaccination is not ideal for the Nets, whatsoever. He doesn't want the vaccine and he cannot be forced to take it.

If he doesn't get jabbed he will miss numerous games and practices. If he remains unvaccinated the Nets will have a decision to make: let him be a part-time player, or side-line him altogether. It's a bit of a mess and could hinder them a lot.

The Lakers, on the other hand, have LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and now Russell Westbrook. The LA franchise also picked up 1x scoring champion and 10x All-Star Carmelo Anthony.

Here's the thing; AD is hurt quite often, LeBron has admitted himself he is not the same following an injury last year, and Westbrook can average a triple-double, but he is a very frustrating player. Perhaps being the third option on a team could benefit his game greatly.

This team is a bit too 2017/18 Cleveland Cavaliers for my liking. On paper, their roster looks incredible, but it is old, and AD has so many injury concerns; he needs to stay healthy if they are to have any chance of winning this season. The loss of Alex Caruso should not be understated, either.

The Nets have a great chance, more so than the Lakers, despite also having plenty of old heads. If the Kyrie issue is resolved, they should be the favourites. The Bucks' current cohesion is a massive factor in them being our pick, however, the Nets comfortably have the best roster… on paper.

Emerging/re-emerging contenders: Golden State Warriors (11/1)

The final piece to the opening night schedule puzzle. The Warriors start off their season against the Lakers, a year on from their heavy defeat to the Nets on day one.

The 'big three' that won the championship in 2015 are back, following Klay Thompson's return from two awful back-to-back injuries. Thompson won't be rushed back in, and his return date is likely to be in January.

Another returning member of their previous dynasty is Andre Iguodala. Iggy won three championships with the Warriors, taking home the Finals MVP in 2015. He helped the Miami Heat reach the finals in the 2020 bubble and is a valuable pick-up for Steve Kerr.

James Wiseman is another player returning and will be hoping for a much better sophomore year than his rookie one after suffering a meniscus injury in his right knee, ending his maiden season after 39 games.

Following their acquisition of Durant in 2016 free agency, the Warriors became the biggest villains in the league, strolling to two consecutive titles before an injury-ravaged post-season denied them a three-peat against Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors.

However, people began to feel sorry for them after injuries to KD and Klay, plus it is very hard to dislike Stephen Curry; so, they are quite likeable now.

Draymond Green and 2x MVP Curry complete the iconic trifecta alongside Thompson. Everyone knows what Chef Curry is capable of; he is the greatest shooter of all time and the best point guard in the league.

Green isn't the player he once was but is a great defender and a superb leader.

The signings of Otto Porter Jr, Avery Bradley and Nemanja Bjelica will help immensely, plus the news that Andrew Wiggins has been vaccinated gives the Warriors a great chance of competing this season. They are 100 per cent worth a punt.

The best long shot: Denver Nuggets (20/1)

The Nuggets have the league MVP in their ranks in Nikola Jokic and will welcome back point guard Jamal Murray this season following his ACL injury.

They missed Will Barton while he was out, but the 30-year-old is back, and Facundo Campazzo will be a valuable back-up for Murray after picking up more experience in his absence.

The likes of Michael Porter Jr, Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green give Michael Malone's team a decent chance to compete this season.

Honourable mentions: Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers (14/1)

These two can be found at 14/1 odds and are the best of the rest. The Clippers have an excellent dynamic duo in Paul George and the aforementioned Leonard. Whereas for Utah, they have Donovan Mitchell and 3x Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert. Both will be teams to keep an eye out on.

The Suns, Heat, Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers are the best of the rest - but unlikely to reach their Conference Finals, let alone win the whole thing.

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