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The curse of the small-market defending champions


With teams like Philadelphia and Brooklyn considered the favorites, not many people expected Milwaukee to make the Finals last year. The Bucks proved them wrong and won the whole thing. Fast forward to October 2020, and the Bucks are about to kick off their campaign as the defending champions, and while this should mean that teams will come after you to measure themselves, it seems that their projected chances to win are not all too great. Our friends at had a wonderful take on the defending champions flying under the radar next season, which you should definitely check out.

“They (Bucks) are the defending champs, after all, even if we seem to have forgotten that.”

Moke Hamilton, Basketball News

While it’s true that the Bucks are not going to be the favorites after Brooklyn and the Lakers stacked their rosters this off-season, they won’t be the first defending champions to face such an ordeal. Not too long ago, the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals. The following year, teams like Milwaukee and Philadelphia were still considered to be the favorites despite the Raptors being the defending champions. Even if they did make it out of the East and faced the Los Angeles Lakers or the Clippers, no one really gave The Raptors a chance. Why is that?

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Well, they lost Kawhi Leonard in Free Agency after The Klaw decided to head back to Los Angeles to join the Clippers. Also, Anthony Davis and LeBron James had just linked up with the Purple and Gold. The Raptors were a great team without Kawhi in the regular season and still a threat in the NBA bubble, which shows their team was not bad at all.

So it’s safe to say that the Raptors of 2019 were the first defending champions to fly under the radar, mainly because they lost their Finals MVP and had an aging roster. The same cannot be said about Milwaukee, and given all that is happening with vaccination restrictions, I like Milwaukee’s chances against a Nets team that is missing Kyrie Irving.

However, no one seems to have that much of an edge over the Bucks apart from the Nets. The Lakers certainly got better, but is the big three they have over there going to dominate Middleton, Jrue, and Giannis? I don’t think so. If flying the radar means you are out of the top two contenders, then maybe they are, but the fact that the Nets are the only team definitively better than the Bucks shows that they have a championship roster in their midst.

They may have lost PJ Tucker, but with DiVincenzo returning next season, Milwaukee will have a player that can help contribute at a high level. Even if the Bucks fly under the radar, no defending champions was quite overlooked the way the 2019 Toronto Raptors were. It should be an entertaining season, and the Bucks will likely face the Nets in the ECF. So in the words of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I call “Bucks in 6.”

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