The NBA is moving toward a restart of the 2019-20 season.
Minor hurdles remain, but the NBA plans to resume games on July 31 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex outside of Orlando, Florida, with 22 teams, then begin a full 16-team postseason with the Finals stretching into October.
The league has acknowledged that any restart plan is imperfect, so it settled on what it believes preserves the integrity of competition while providing necessary health and safety conditions for players and essential personnel.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of the NBA’s format, which was approved by owners on Thursday:
This comes with a caveat. The league plans to resume play, and that’s great. But this needs to go off without problems for it to be successful. If there’s a major coronavirus-related issue, the league will fall into the loser category when all is said and done.
At 35 years old and still playing at an MVP level but with Father Time approaching the neighborhood, James gets another chance at a championship. Not finishing the season would have been crushing for James and by extension, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Bucks have the league’s best record and were on pace for 66 or 67 victories. After losing in the conference finals last season, they wanted to finish this season with a chance to get to the NBA Finals. With Giannis Antetokounmpo’s potential free agency coming up, the Bucks want every chance to show him Milwaukee is the team for him.
This is simple enough. NBA fans get to watch the basketball they love again.
The ninth seed
If the ninth seed is within four games of the eighth seed, there will be a play-in game between those teams for the final playoff spot in each conference. That’s a win for teams who otherwise wouldn’t have a shot at making the playoffs in a normal situation. In a play-in game scenario, the ninth seed needs to beat the eighth seed twice to make the playoffs.
Zion Williamson/New Orleans Pelicans
Williamson and the Pelicans are tied with Portland and Sacramento for the ninth seed, 3½ games behind Memphis. It would have been difficult (but not impossible) for those teams to overcome 3½ games with 16-18 games remaining. But this format makes it more possible for the ninth seed to earn a playoff spot, and that means the potential for more games featuring Williamson and the Pelicans. That’s a win for NBA fans, too. MyBookie already has a ton of Williamson prop bets if the Pelicans make the playoffs.
All basketball eyes will be focused on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the next three months. Get ready for one long Disney commercial.
NBA’s TV partners
ESPN, ABC, TNT, NBA TV and regional sports networks will again have games to broadcast and make up for some of the money lost while play was suspended.
The eighth seed
Orlando is 5½ games ahead of Washington for the eighth seed. Normally, that locks up the eighth seed by that point in the season. But all Washington needs to do is get within four games of Orlando – or Brooklyn if it ends up No. 8 – and force a play-in game scenario. Through 65 games, the Magic established themselves as the better team. But they could lose that position over eight games and two play-in games.
Los Angeles Lakers
This one comes with a caveat, too. The Lakers will end up the top seed in the West, making them favorites to advance to the Finals. However, instead of preparing for a first-round series against a young Memphis squad, they could up facing Williamson and the Pelicans or Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the Portland Trail Blazers. The Lakers would still be the favorites, but the matchup might be more difficult with more drama.
While Las Vegas knows how to handle NBA-related events, such as Summer League and the G League showcase, Sin City is not the place to resume the season amid a pandemic. It’s much easier to gamble with family-friendly Disney.
The eight teams left out of the restart
Those teams last played in March and won’t play again until probably December. (There won’t be a Summer League either). That’s a long time off for teams looking to get improve with young rosters. Even the practice time and eight games would have been beneficial to teams like Charlotte, Cleveland, Minnesota, Atlanta and Chicago.
Jazz starting forward Bojan Bogdanovic had surgery in May to repair a ruptured ligament in his right (shooting) wrist and will miss the remainder of the season. Plus, the Jazz may still have to resolve any lingering issues between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, who was upset by Gobert’s cavalier attitude toward COVID-19 – before both players tested positive.
Vince Carter’s farewell game
After 22 NBA seasons, it would have been nice for fans, the league and the Hawks to give Vince Carter a proper sendoff into retirement from the NBA. Instead, a loss to the New York Knicks on March 11 was Carter’s final NBA game. He had five points in 13 minutes. At 43 years old, Carter had 10 games with at least 10 points, including a season-high 17 points in 20 minutes against Charlotte.
Playoff seeding innovation
Yes, there’s the possibility of play-in game so there is some innovation. But this could have been the perfect time to experiment with seeding playoff teams 1-16 regardless of conference, meaning the Lakers play Orlando in the first round and two teams from the same conference could play in the Finals.
Iconic playoff moments are made memorable also by the crowd reaction, and we have to look no further than Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers last season. Those plays will happen but in a mostly empty gym/arena and without the same emotion and tension of a packed arena.