By: Owen Cooper
NBA basketball is on its way back after a long hiatus that started in mid-March due to Covid-19. Since then, even the most dedicated fans might have forgotten what’s happened this season, and because of this, here’s a reminder of where we are…
The Restart Plan:
At some point in July, 22 teams will head to the Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida to prepare for the remainder of the season. The regular season is supposed to start back up on July 31st, and each team will play eight games to finish off the playoff picture. The 22 teams were selected based on their playoff positioning. The top eight teams in each conference along with the Washington Wizards in the East and a handful of teams in the West will all have a chance at making the playoffs. All of the teams currently outside of the playoffs are within six games of the eighth seed in their respective conference.
The Playoff Picture:
Although it may seem unfair to keep some teams out of this plan, these no point in putting hundreds of extra people at risk if a team has no chance at making the playoffs. If by the end of the 8 regular-season games, the 9th seed is within four games of the eighth, there will be a play-in tournament for the final seed. This could happen in either conference. If not, the 8th seed will make it into the playoffs uncontested.
Additional important dates noted in the plan include:
October 12th- Game 7 of the NBA Finals (if necessary)
October 15th- The NBA Draft
October 18th- The start of Free Agency
December 1st- The start of the 2020-21 regular season
Western Conference Storylines:
LeBron vs Zion
At this point, LeBron and the Lakers have nearly secured the top seed in the Western Conference, but their first-round opponent is still up in the air. It was said that the NBA was going to do everything in their power to give Pelicans star rookie, Zion Williamson a chance to make the playoffs. In college, Zion was compared to LeBron athletically, and now, the two have a chance to face off in a “passing of the torch” type playoff series, although LeBron won’t be passing it up any time soon. If these two teams meet, pictures and videos from this series will likely be passed around for decades, similar to the pictures of a young Kobe Bryant guarding Michael Jordan. A matchup of the leagues largest current superstar and the brightest future star would be an NBA fans dream.
The Battle for LA
As long as most can remember, Los Angeles and the Staples Center has always been about the Lakers. The Lakers have a much deeper and more successful history than the Clippers, but this season, all of that can change. The Clippers and Lakers have four of the game’s top players and are 1st and 2nd in the Western Conference standings. LeBron James is trying to prove to the world that he can bring a championship to the Lakers, while Kawhi Leonard wants to show everyone why he’s a 2-time Finals MVP. This matchup is extremely enticing and has a lot of implications other than just wins and losses.
The Chris Paul Redemption Tour
Aging point guard Chris Paul has been in the playoffs numerous times, but he can never seem to get his team over the hump. As a member of the Clippers a few years ago, he was apart of a dynamic offense with Blake Griffin, but they couldn’t push through the top dogs of the West. Then, after joining the Rockets and pairing up with James Harden, Paul found himself frustrated by playoff losses to teams like the Spurs, Thunder, and Warriors. Last offseason, CP3 was traded for Russell Westbrook in a deal that left him in Oklahoma City with little hope. Surprisingly, Paul was able to lead the young Thunder team to the 5th spot in the West (to this point) and has a chance to play both of his old teams in the playoffs. Paul should be thirsty for blood if he gets a crack at the Rockets or the Clippers.
The End of a Dynasty?
The San Antonio Spurs have been in the playoffs every year since the 1996-97 season, but this year that streak is in jeopardy. As of now, they sit outside of the playoffs looking in, and there is very little hope, but they wouldn’t have been left in the plan if there wasn’t a shot. This year, their team isn’t nearly as talented as in the past. In addition to their inexperience, they will be playing the remainder of their season without one of their best players in LaMarcus Aldridge. They don’t have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, or Manu Ginobili to lean on this year, but if veterans DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, there’s a slight chance coach Popovich can keep the streak alive. If not, the Spurs might have to rebuild for the first time in decades.
The Small Ball Experiment
In Houston, the Rockets made waves by trading away their starting center Clint Capela. Now, the 6’5” PJ Tucker finds himself playing most of his minutes at center. The Rockets have gone full small ball, and no one knows if its a viable strategy in the playoffs. Can PJ Tucker hang with Nikola Jokic in Denver, Anthony Davis for the Lakers, or Rudy Gobert in Utah, probably not, but it might not matter. The Rockets plan to space the floor on offense as they have a shooter at every position. If they can stay hot for 4 out of 7 games, then they should be in good shape. If the small ball experiment works, other teams may go that route as well, but if it doesn’t, Houston will either have to lean on an aging Tyson Chandler to play significant minutes, or they’re going to be highly ridiculed for misusing and then trading Clint Capela. Only time will tell.
Eastern Conference Storylines:
Back 2 Back
The Toronto Raptors have a chance to win back to back NBA Championships. Last year was the first time the city had ever won an NBA Finals, and the entire country was galvanized, but this year might be even more difficult. They no longer have Kawhi Leonard to carry them as he did last year, and Danny Green is a significant loss to the rotation as well. Additionally, the Bucks are even more hungry than last year, and Giannis Antetokounmpo looks to be on a mission, but it wouldn’t be impossible for them to repeat as champions. Paskal Siamkam has made large strides this year, and much of their championship roster from last year remains intact. Although the odds are slim, don’t count out the Raptors.
The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are probably not championship contenders at the end of the day, but both franchises put together very surprising seasons despite their circumstances. In Miami, Bam Adebayo took a huge step forward in his development, and now teams have to figure out how to stop him. Additionally, Miami struck gold with their 1st round draft pick Tyler Herro, and their undrafted rookies Kendrick Nunn and Chris Silva have also been pleasant surprises. In Indiana, the Pacers have played most of their season without their best player, Victor Oladipo, but still find themselves towards the top of the standings. If Oladipo can play at his true form, and Miami continues to play fluent basketball, both of these teams could spoil someone’s Finals chances.
The 76ers Aren’t Dangerous
NBA fans have been following “The Process” for years, but its starting to look like Philly’s full rebuild won’t result in a championship. Although Ben Simmons is extremely underrated and skilled, his inability to hit a 3-pointer holds the Sixers back. Additionally, the highly OVERRATED Joel Embiid can’t stay healthy and had games where he might as well be Tiago Splitter. The Sixers’ front office had a massive misstep when they decided to acquire Al Horford and resign Tobias Harris instead of paying Jimmy Butler. Butler gave Philly a competitive edge, and without him, Embiid and Simmons are soft leaders of a soft team. The 76ers are also missing out on players like Robert Covington, JJ Redick, and TJ McConnell, who all helped form the identity of the team. The 76ers might have more talent than a lot of teams, but mentally, they won’t be able to handle the Celtics, Bucks, Raptors, or Heat in a seven-game series.
The MVP Race
The race for Most Valuable Player has been tight all year long. As of now, it seems as though the front runner is Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is looking to win the award for the second straight year. Other notable candidates include Lakers’ LeBron James, and Rockets’ James Harden, all of whom are having extraordinary seasons. It’s hard to say how much voters will value this end part of the season compared to the first, larger chunk, but this award is still up for grabs, and the race is tight.
If you are new to the NBA and are looking for a team to bandwagon for the time being, here is the layout of the league, based on the team’s chances to win the Finals this year. Choose wisely.