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Which NBA Teams Might Make Things Interesting This Season?

We start with the return of the NBA, which also means the return of our NBA prediction model, powered by our RAPTOR player ratings. We’ve gotten rid of some things — most notably the more predictive version of RAPTOR, which threw off our playoff predictions last year — and have also changed some things around to account for the ongoing pandemic that the league is going to start (but hopefully not finish) playing in. Four teams — the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics — have double-digit odds of taking home the title this year, according to our model. The fact that it’s not just the Lakers vs. the league is exciting, but teams that are prioritizing making the playoffs over winning it all are also going to make it interesting. The Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks look particularly exciting, and they seem like they’ve taken advantage of a much healthier process to get progressively better than the boom-or-bust approaches in Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

Next, we take one last look at the College Football Playoff now that it’s been set. Alabama and Clemson also seem set to run the table against Ohio State and Notre Dame, which is what makes the selection this year so frustrating. We can (and probably will) argue about just how good the Big Ten still is or isn’t, and Ohio State’s place in all of that. But Notre Dame showed in the ACC championship game that it is not the best team in college football, and the Irish are huge underdogs against Alabama. So why not let Texas A&M or Cincinnati take their shot in the playoff and at least give us something different to watch? Maybe the Hot Takedown crew got its hopes up because 2020 was such a weird year, but so long as the incentives for the playoff committee remain the same, we’ll probably see the same teams show up over and over again.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil examines some of the changes that may occur from the formal inclusion of the Negro Leagues — a collection of segregation-era leagues that were formed because Black players were excluded from MLB and its affiliates — as major leagues. There’s been some incredible research to reconstruct as much data as possible from the Negro Leagues, although there will definitely be growing pains in managing the data. But we might also get 24 new no-hitters; extra stats for players like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Larry Doby and Roy Campanella; and — most importantly — a step toward fairness for a group of players who could not find enough of it during their careers.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.