After four months of no basketball, the NBA is gearing up for the resumption of the 2019-2020 season. With such a long hiatus fans can be forgiven for forgetting the current narratives surrounding the NBA. We have taken a look around the league and selected the three main plots to follow upon its resumption.
Legitimacy of this season’s championship especially for LeBron
During the suspension of the league sports talk shows fixated on diminishing the legitimacy of this season’s championship. With over four months to prepare for the league’s return many pundits believe this season’s title should come with an asterisk as it has not followed the pattern of a regular season. Most of this illegitimacy comes in the direction of LeBron James and the Lakers who sit at the top of the Western Conference and look set to embark on a championship run.
Not everything has gone to plan for the Lakers during the hiatus with point guard Avery Bradley stating that he would not be entering the NBA bubble due to his son’s respiratory issues. The Lakers promptly announced the signing of free agent JR Smith whose championship experience alongside LeBron could prove valuable during the playoffs although it could come at the cost of team chemistry. It will be interesting to see if the Lakers will keep the momentum that they left the NBA with when they return to the floor against the Clippers on July 31.
Can Giannis lead the Bucks to the finals?
The East this year feels like a foregone conclusion already with the Bucks having the best record in the entire NBA, only dropping 12 games this season. Certainly, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be looking to take the Bucks one step further after losing to the eventual NBA Champions, Toronto Raptors, last year in the Eastern Conference finals.
With Kawhi out West, Giannis has a point to prove this year and in an ever-weakening Eastern Conference the expectation has to be reaching the finals. If he is not able to lead the Bucks to the finals this year people will certainly start to cast doubts about his ability to lead a team through the playoffs.
Whilst there is pressure for the Bucks to represent the East in the NBA finals, they certainly will not be the favourites to win the NBA especially if they are matched up against either of the Los Angeles teams.
The race for the 8th seed in the West
Possibly the best narrative to follow when play resumes is the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings and Spurs all fighting for the final playoff spot.
Before play suspended the Western Conference, eighth seed race was beginning to heat up with Portland beginning to reel in the Grizzlies. Memphis led by rookie Ja Morant have been a surprise package so far this season holding down a playoff place for most of the season. The rookie looked a lock-in for ROTY until Zion burst onto the scene in January and helped propel the Pelicans into playoff contention. Memphis are in the driving seat to keep the eighth seed and will attempt to increase their grip on the final playoff spot during the remaining regular-season games.
The Pelicans looked like they could have been on a playoff projection when Zion returned from injury and established solid chemistry with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram from the get-go. The Pels remaining eight games are against teams around the eighth seed, so they have an opportunity to make a real statement if they were to sneak into the post-season.
Portland will enter the bubble with a much healthier looking roster than the one they had when the NBA was suspended. Jusuf Nurkic returned to action for the first time since breaking his leg in March 2019 and played a solid 20 minutes in a narrow 91-88 loss to the Pacers with the Trail Blazers centre looking bright. The new NBA cover star, Damian Lillard, will no doubt step up production in the remaining regular-season games to ensure Portland reach the playoffs.
San Antonio is four games back of Memphis but only half a game back of the other three teams competing for the final seed in the west. A young Spurs team which is clearly in a rebuild are outsiders to reach the playoffs but as always, Greg Popovich has worked his magic and got his team in the conversation for the playoffs. The Spurs are certainly outsiders to reach the playoffs and development is clearly the main focus of this season as stated by Pop, but they could upset the applecart in their remaining games.
The Kings had won seven of their last ten games prior to the league suspension and have given themselves a half chance of securing the final playoff seed out of the west. With their momentum certainly halted it will be a tough ask for them to hit the ground running and make a run towards the playoffs.
They are the three main storylines to follow when the NBA’s resumption. It will not be the same as a regular NBA season but it certainly will be a special one.