It was confirmed earlier today that the NBA will be returning. All the details surrounding the continuation of the league can be found here. In short, 22 teams will be occupying Disneyland, Orlando which will act as a makeshift bubble in order to try to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The 22 teams, which consist of the 16 playoff teams as well as the Kings, Suns, Spurs, Pelicans, Blazers and Wizards, will play out an eight-game regular season to confirm playoff seeding. Per Sam Cox’s earlier article on FranchiseSports, if the eighth seeds are more than four games clear, they will go straight to playoffs. If they’re not, there will be a play-in tournament.
So with the news confirmed that the NBA will return in this 22-team format, let’s take a look at the teams that benefit from the format as well as the teams that will be hurt by the continuation in Orlando.
Washington Wizards / Bradley Beal – Winner
When ideas surrounding the continuation of the NBA were first being thought about, the Washington Wizards were often treated as an afterthought and as a bit of a joke. ‘Don’t forget about the Wizards! They can still make the playoffs!’ many an NBA analyst and fan joked when taking into consideration the teams on the fringes of playoff contention proceeding the suspension back in March.
The Wizards are the only non-playoff Eastern Conference team invited to play in Orlando and can prove a lot of people wrong by surprising a few teams in the odd circumstances in Orlando. You can’t bring up the Wizards without mentioning Bradley Beal. As well the organisation benefiting from the spotlight in Orlando, Beal will certainly appreciate the publicity the ‘bubble’ will bring.
With his future somewhat uncertain, the Disneyland venture gives Beal an opportunity to show the rest of the NBA, as well as the rest of the world, just how good of a player he is.
Ja Morant – Loser
Before the suspension of the league, Ja Morant was certain to win the Rookie of the Year award as well as lead his Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs via the 8th seed. However, with the continuation of the league confirmed, as stupid as it sounds, Morant will have to prove once again to the NBA cognoscenti that he is worthy of the ROTY award over Zion Williamson. On top of this, the Grizzlies will have to fend off the Trail Blazers, Kings, Pelicans, Suns and the Spurs, five teams capable of mixing things up – this is especially prevalent considering the circumstances.
What appeared to be a simple path to the playoffs in his rookie season as well as the ROTY award, is now a hectic challenge for the young Morant trying to finish his first year in the NBA.
Houston Rockets – Winner
If you think back before the world came to a standstill due to COVID-19, you’ll remember the ‘Pocket Rockets’ led by Russell Westbrook making a lot of noise in the West. However, the important factors of durability and stamina appeared to be the Rockets main adversaries – with all the wear and tear of the season followed immediately by the playoffs, would Westbrook and the Rockets be able to maintain this level of intensity?
Well luckily for Houston, the suspension of the league afforded the roster a chance to rest, recover and recuperate prior to the league continuing. 6’5 P.J. Tucker will certainly have appreciated the rest. Furthermore, the ever so electric, high-flying Russell Westbrook will certainly have benefited from the intermission.
Prior to the stoppage, Westbrook was averaging over 30 points per game (31.7) as well as 5.5. assists and 8.2 total rebounds. However, the effects of fatigue seemed to be setting in before the suspension as the Rockets lost 4 of their 5 final games. With the rest and recuperation in mind, expect the Pocket Rockets to be a real handful for teams this coming July/August – and I haven’t even mentioned James Harden.
LeBron James – Loser
With the success of ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’, that ever so tiresome, yet prevalent, GOAT debate has found a new lease of life. Pointless, childish arguments aside, the GOAT debate does bring the topic of LeBron James’ legacy to the forefront. Before the suspension, following a resounding victory against Kawhi and the Clippers, LeBron and the Lakers appeared to be odds on favourites to come out of the West and challenge either the Bucks or the Raptors in the Finals.
However, as the NBA returns from suspension, the mitigating factors of rust, no home-court advantage, loss of momentum and sport being always unpredictable could all throw a spanner in the works for LeBron and his quest for his fourth ring. Furthermore, if LeBron were to win in Orlando, the mind-numbingly tedious conversations surrounding the legitimacy of the championship would never go away. There is hope that the NBA either would acknowledge the circumstances surrounding the 2019/20 title, however, after witnessing ‘Ringzzz’ culture – I am not hopeful.