WSUM’s Procrastinators guide to the NBA restart

Have you been missing live team sports? Did you completely forget the NBA returns on Thursday July 30th? Has this ever happened to you? Like a foreign language class, four months off is more than enough time to forget every last detail. And if you answered yes to any of the previous questions, WSUM has the guide to bring back your NBA fluency.

Scheduling

Schedule and Playoffs

Each team will play eight games to determine playoff seeding. This is the easy part, each team’s schedule is essentially a condensed version of their remaining regular season schedule. For example, the Portland Trail Blazers have already played their two games against the Orlando Magic before the season was suspended, so they wouldn’t play the Magic in the seeding games. But every team the Blazers will face in the bubble is an opponent that they were scheduled to play in the final 20 or so games of the season anyway. Once the seeding games are finished, and the eighth seed play-in round is had, the playoffs will go on in typical league fashion.

8th seed play-in round

This is where it gets interesting. If the ninth seed is within four games of the eighth seed after the seeding games, the final playoff spot is determined by a three game play-in round. The ninth seed has to win two games to advance and the eighth seed only needs to win one to secure the final spot.

When do games start?

The games begin Thursday, July 30th with the Jazz facing off against the Pelicans at 6:30 p.m./5:30 central, and the playoffs begin August 17th. The season can end as late as October 13th. All games will be on ABC, ESPN, TNT, or NBA TV. Games can also be streamed through Youtube TV, Sling TV Orange, Hulu with Live TV, FuboTV, and AT&T TV Now.

Biggest Team Stories to Follow

Grizzlies vs. Blazers vs. Pelicans

Remember that play-in round? And the format of each team’s schedule? It’s almost surgically designed for the Pelicans to make the playoffs. The combined win percentage of Grizzlies opponents is .597, and the Blazers is .601. The Pelicans? .495 with only two opponents above .500. The four-game margin of error for the ninth seed minus well be renamed as the Zion-handicap. Without revenue from tickets and concessions, the NBA needs the playoffs to be a hit, and if disrespecting Ja Morant and Damian Lillard is the way to get Zion–and his ratings boost–in the playoffs, then so be it. Bring this take to the barstool. 

Lakers

A crosstown rivalry seems to be the destiny of the Western Conference, as the LA juggernauts are the two favorites to reach the conference finals (+250 for the Lakers and +333 for the Clippers). No Rajon Rondo or Avery Bradley for the Lakers is big trouble for Lebron and company. Even with the addition of Dion Waiters, the Lakers only have three true ball handlers. Lebron is now the late game ball handler, primary defender, and offensive initiator. But what’s new, Lebron has added obstacles in the playoffs. Even so, Lebron now faces his greatest challenge yet: beating the Megladonic Clippers without two key players. 

The Hodgepodge Eastern Conference

The East is an absolute mess and I love it. Five teams could realistically make the Finals and every team has significant weaknesses. The Bucks absolutely need Giannis Antetokuonmpo to display his Shaq-level dominance in every round to even have a chance at a championship. The Raptors and Heat have no superstars but have some of the strongest culture and coaching surrounding them. The Celtics have one of the scariest starting fives in the league, but have no playmaking or ball handling coming off the bench. And the Sixers have two of the most talented players in the NBA, but are an abhorrent 10-24 away from home. Who knows what’ll happen!

The Teams not in the Bubble

The eight teams that aren’t going to Disney World are laying low for now, with an outside chance of playing in a Chicago bubble for exhibition games. (Conspiracy Theory: this is all part of the NBA’s inside plan to elevate the status of the Bulls organization and Chicago as a desirable free agent market, but that’s for another day). 

Biggest Player Stories to Follow

Who Isn’t at the Bubble?

COVID related: 

Taurean Prince, Guard/Forward, Nets

Spencer Dinwidder, Guard, Nets

Deandre Jordan, Center, Nets

Avery Bradley, Guard, Lakers

Trevor Ariza, Forward, Trail Blazers

Willie Cauley-Stein, Center, Mavericks

Wilson Chandler, Forward, Nets

Injured:

Bradley Beal, Guard, Wizards

Victor Oladipo, Guard, Pacers

Zhaire Smith, Forward, 76ers

Justise Winslow, Forward, Grizzlies

Lamarcus Aldridge, Forward/Center, Spurs

Bojan Bodganovic, Forward, Jazz

Other:

Kyrie Irving, Guard, Nets–Social Justice

Davis Bertans, Forward, Wizards–Injury History/Pending Free Agency

Thabo Sefolosha, Guard/Forward, Rockets–N/A 

Jayson Tatum

Before the season ended, we were all witnessing Jayson Tatum’s ascent to superstardom. In the final 17 games before the season was suspended, Tatum’s averages jumped to 29-8-3 with 1.5 steals and a block a game. In the final 15 games before the suspension, only Russell Westbrook averaged more points, assists, and rebounds than Tatum. Sans the 2004 Detroit Pistons, every team needs a superstar to contend. Tatum has become that for the Celtics, and if he can sustain this rampant pace, they are primed for a deep playoff run. What a shock. A superstar is born in Boston.

Nikola Jokic

ESPN reported that Jokic lost between 20 and 25 pounds during his pre-bubble quarantine and the league should be on notice. If this weight loss can directly increase his on court stamina and speed, Skinny Jokic will become the ultimate x-factor and mismatch. Assuming that all things stay equal, the Nuggets and Clippers could be headed for a Western Semi Final duel, in which case the Clipper face a matchup nightmare. And in the spur of the moment nature of the seeding games and the playoffs, the ability to prepare for an in-shape Jokic is greatly limited.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

We’re blessed with what might be the most glorious feature of the bubble: an empty gym with Joel Embiid. The banter we’ll get to hear, the psychological warfare waged, it’s all too good to be true. On top of the pure entertainment value that Embiid alone brings, the Sixers have the strongest “what-if” factor in the Eastern Conference: what if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons figure it out? Both Simmons and Embiid have demonstrated how dominant they can be when the other doesn’t play, and even together they gave the Raptors their hardest challenge of the 2019 post season. A total reset can also be the perfect break to bring Al Horford back to his all-star level, a revelation that can completely differentiate the Sixers from the rest of the conference. In the purely messy Eastern Conference, a revitalized and focussed Sixers team can wreak absolute havoc. 

Closing Thoughts

This isn’t the basketball we expected but it’s the basketball we’re getting. Any attempt to invalidate this season is, as Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers claims, “for losers”. Yes, this guide is meant to kickstart the basketball fan’s brain back into NBA shape, but it also shows that the NBA we all know and love is still here. The stories, the near-fantastical characters, the behind the scenes drama is all there. This is the new normal, so pop open a rack of Spotteds and enjoy the rest of the 2020 NBA season.