With Christmas behind us, the 2021-2022 NBA season is beginning to heat up. Most teams have established an identity and are gearing up for a long winter before the NBA playoffs begin in the spring.
As fans, this time of year is exciting because the regular season becomes more competitive, the trade deadline is approaching, and basketball is on just about every night. Below, we highlight 5 of the top things basketball fans should look out for in 2022.
The Return of NBA Superstars Kyrie Irving & Klay Thompson
2022 is the year fans will see both Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets) and Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors) take the floor after their respective absences.
Irving has missed time due to his vaccination status as most states and arenas, such as New York, have protocols in place that limit unvaccinated folks from merely entering the arenas. Thus, Irving can only participate in select away games for the time being. In fact, he already made his debut on Wednesday, January 5th, and didn’t disappoint, having scored 22 points in 32 minutes.
There’s no doubt that Irving can make the Brooklyn Nets better when he’s on the floor with Kevin Durant and James Harden. Sportsbooks like DraftKings Sportsbook NY have the Brooklyn Nets as current favorites to win the title at +245. Fans are in for a special treat when the Nets visit their city.
Across the country in San Francisco, 3x NBA champion Klay Thompson is gearing up for his return this month as he’s fully recovered from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered during the 2019-2020 season.
Without Thompson, the Warriors have already been performing at a championship level. They have achieved the second-best record in the Western Conference (to date). If the Warriors can seamlessly integrate Thompson into their lineup and game plan, they instantly take their title chance to the next level.
The Los Angeles Clippers Getting Healthy
Ever since landing Kawhi Leonard in free agency before the 2019 season the Los Angeles have been in win-now mode. In addition to Leonard, they traded for Paul George and added key pieces around the duo in addition to Leonard. However, the injury bug has hit the Clippers hard this season.
Could 2022 be when we see Kawhi Leonard suit up for the Clippers for the first time this season? Possibly. Recent reports show that many in the Clippers organization expect Leonard to return by the end of the regular season as he is ahead of schedule recovering from a torn ACL.
Additionally, Paul George has been recovering from a torn ligament in his elbow that has kept him out of the lineup. It’s expected that George will miss some time, but he should be able to get healthy again sometime in 2022 and even get a chance to once again play with his co-star in Leonard and make a late-season playoff push. The Clippers are currently the 5th seed in the West.
Roster Changes for the Lakers
Like their LA counterparts, the Los Angeles Lakers are underperforming and navigating issues — mainly related to their play on the floor. Yes, the Lakers have indeed been without Anthony Davis as of late, but they haven’t played well consistently even with Davis on the floor.
There have been several trade rumors coming out of LA. Fans will likely see a whole new LA roster when the trade deadline has passed. Recently, names such as DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore have come up in trade rumors in an effort for LA to clear roster space.
The Lakers already made one move, trading Rajon Rondo to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It seems as though the front office wants to ship out players that aren’t seeing much playing time to free up space and possibly bring in fresh faces in hopes that they will give the team a much-needed spark in 2022. The Lakers are currently the 6th seed in the West and have been hovering around .500 for much of the season.
A Big Trade Deadline Splash
The Lakers aren’t the only team actively looking to trade players away and/or upgrade their roster. Each year, NBA fans can expect to see a flurry of trades around the trade deadline, which is Thursday, February 10th, 2022.
One big-name player on the trading block for much of the year is 76ers’ star, Ben Simmons. It’s no secret that Simmons does not want to be in Philadelphia, having opted to sit out until the team meets his trade demands. Publicly the team has stated they’d prefer to keep Simmons, or they will hold off on trading him until they receive a top-caliber player in return.
However, the 76ers might be losing leverage and, more importantly, may decide to part with Simmons for less to improve their roster and maximize Joel Embiid’s prime. Several teams have come up in rumors, including the Kings, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and more recently, the Atlanta Hawks.
Another big name that could be on the move in 2022 is Lakers guard Russell Westbrook. But the challenge is Westbrook would struggle to fit on many NBA teams. Nevertheless, basketball fans should look out for trade talks to heat up as we march closer to the February 10th deadline.
Close Playoff Seeding Race
Last year, the NBA implemented a playoff play-in tournament due to the 2019-2020 season being interrupted because of COVID-19. This year, the league opted to keep the format. This allows the 9th and 10th seeds in each conference to play their way into the playoffs.
The new format should make for an exciting end to the 2021-2022 season as each conference has around 11-12 teams that are currently in a position to make the playoffs or the play-in tournament.
Basketball fans should be on the lookout for teams to play hard down the stretch to make the first six seeds and avoid the play-in tournament. Currently, teams such as the Lakers, 76ers, Clippers, and Nuggets are under-performing relative to their expectations and are in jeopardy of losing out on an automatic playoff berth.
Featured Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay