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The Return of the NBA: The Preview

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NBA to be held at Walt Disney world, Orlando upon return

 

The NBA has taken a long, 4 month break since the positive test of Coronavirus for the Utah Jazz Centre Rudy Gobert. Since then a lot of speculation has surfaced surrounding the remainder of the season. Would it have a conclusion and, if it was to, when would it happen. After that long break, the league is set to return on the 30th July despite fears and criticism given the effect that the virus has had in the country. 

How is it going to be played out?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced its return, that all teams who have a chance of reaching the Playoffs would enter a ‘bubble’ at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando. This bubble means that until their side gets knocked out or until the end of the NBA season, players, staff and everyone involved must remain in the bubble at all times. For anyone with the virus, they must leave the confined area to self-isolate on their own until they receive 2 negative results.

22 teams in the NBA have a chance of making it to the final 16 for the NBA Playoffs. Meaning that 8 NBA teams have been allowed to finish their season early, avoiding the end of the regular season and the subsequent move to Orlando. These teams include the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 2016 NBA Champions (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors. 

Each team remaining would then play 8 games to understand their fate as to whether they would continue within the competition or miss out on the Playoffs. For the teams coming back, each team will be allowed 17 players (15 for their roster) and 2 extra for backup in case of injuries or suspected illnesses. Including the staff, each organisation will be allowed 37 people. However, no player is allowed to bring guests such as friends or family. This is until the second round of playoffs that would not be for a month after the leagues return. 

Those who reach the Playoff final could look to remain in the bubble up until 12th october at the very latest with the return for next season being pushed back until after the New Year. 

 

Problems of the NBA’s return

The US has had a significant number of issues since the outbreak of Coronavirus. Given the astonishing number of cases and deaths, also the country has also had a shocking realisation for its problem of institutional racism.  

Given that roughly 75% of NBA players are black or people of colour,the issues that continue in the US have affected these players massively. Either being able to relate to the racial inequalities or having fought for change themselves. 

As a result, a number of players plan to use the return of the NBA as an opportunity to speak out against racism but there are also players wanting to miss the remainder of the season in protest. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets Point-Guard leads the way for the protest. Being supported by Lakers Avery Bradley and many others. The plan would be to protest until desired change is made both within the NBA and throughout US society.

Alternatively, other players plan to return with the league at the end of this month. By removing the names from the backs of their jerseys for words such as ‘Equality’. To raise awareness to the problems within the country. 

 

Is it safe to return now?

In reality, no. More than 3 million US citizens have contracted the virus with over 100,000 dying as a result. With that being said, the NBA believes they have devised a plan to finish the season whilst also protecting its staff and players.

However, in the build-up to the return, 4 teams have already found positive cases. The latest team having to close its training camp is the Milwaukee Bucks; the team with the best regular season record this season. 

The tests have a 2-day wait on results so cases of the virus could be in a individual for that period of time, before them realising. The fear is that anyone could have the virus and pass it on without knowing for a period of time whilst there is a wait on results in the bubble. 

NBA’s commissioner disclaimed that the biggest concern was if the league got underway again and another wave of the virus spread within the bubble. A concern that would affect a large number of people, being in a confined space. It would be incredibly difficult to avoid the virus if it was to spread in Disney World.

 

Let’s talk ball. 

In all the uncertainty, LeBron’s LA Lakers are the outstanding favourites to take the title. Many predict that the finals will feature the Lakers from the West and the Bucks from the East. If this is to be the final then LeBron’s experience would be vital if they were to take home the Championship. Also, his connection with Centre, Anthony Davis has been instrumental to their success thus far this season. It would be difficult to see anyone getting past them when the season returns. So far, the teams are tied, beating eachother once each. 

Other contenders include the LA Clippers. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George lead the charge for the LA rivals, backed by a strong roster. Leonard, having supported the Toronto Raptors to glory last year is one of the best if not the best all-round players in the league. The 29-year-old has won the Defensive Player of the Year twice and NBA’s Finals MVP once. Last year highlighted his leadership skills, a quality that can provide gripping opposition if they were to face the Lakers in the Western Conference Playoffs. 

The Race for the Playoffs

As mentioned, 22 teams will return at the end of the month to fight for the 16 places in the Playoffs. However, only 9 of those teams will be from the East and 13 from the West. Competition for places is significantly tougher in the West with 7 teams fighting for the 7th and 8th seeds. 

At the moment the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies hold these places with the Portland Trail Blazers hot on their tails. For the Mavericks, just one win will confirm their place in the postseason for the first time in 4 years. However, for that all important 8th seed and most likely a battle with the LA Lakers in the Playoffs. Any one of 6 teams can achieve that. 

For the teams below the 8th seed, the fight is then on to be the 9th seed. If they are within 4 games of the 8th seed then a ‘Play-in Tournament’ will decide who will face the top seed in the West. Meaning that the Grizzlies and Trailblazers may end up facing each other in a one-off game for Playoff bragging rights. That is if the results stay as they are before the leagues return. 

The East

The only team left in the fight for the Playoffs that are currently missing out are the Washington Wizards. The 9th seed side would need a good end to the season to even take it to a Play-in Tournament. This would either be against the Brooklyn Nets or Orlando Magic. The two sides are tied for wins but the Magic have played and lost a game more.

The Wizards will rely heavily on the performances of John Wall and Bradley Beal if they are to have any chance of challenging for a Playoff berth. The pair have averaged 50 points a game during the regular season and will need to continue this to challenge the Magic and Nets.

If Irving drops out of the rest of the season for the civil rights protest then it would work well in the favour of the Wizards. The Nets Point Guard has contributed to 27.8 points and 6.4 assists a game for the organisation and without his creativity and ability with the ball, the team would be remarkably weaker.

 

Other areas to focus on during the regular season:

Besides the fight for the Playoffs, the regular season competition then is between the different seeds. 5th and 6th seeds in the East the Indiana Pacers and the Philadelphia 76ers have an identical record thus far.

The 4th seed: the Miami Heat. They are only 2 games ahead of both teams. The remaining 8 games are then a battle to either have a tie against the current 3rd seed the Boston Celtics or to be against one of the 4th or 5th seeds. As the standings go, a tie against the Celtics would be tougher but that is not to say a tie against any of the other sides would be difficult.

The set up for the postseason in the West has the Denver Nuggets and the Houston Rockets as the most mouthwatering tie. That is if standings stay the same. The matchup of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray against James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be a real test of long range, clinical, 3 point shooting verse the quick passing, physical side of the Nuggets.

 

This was a preview for the NBA seasons return. Will the Lakers take home the grand prize? If not, who would be able to stop them? How badly will the return be affected by Coronavirus? I would love to know what you think!

 

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Sam is an International Relations Graduate from the University of East Anglia. Since graduating, he has gone on to write for the likes of: Sporting Feret; The 72; and The Sporting Blog. His experience writing for Sporting Feret has provided the opportunity to join the media team at Vanarama National League side King's Lynn Town FC. In the role, he conducts player interviews, writes match previews/report,s and is heavily involved in the club's match programmes. To contact him, his email is: samplummer98@gmail.com

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