NBA Basketball is Back! Here’s 5 Things to Watch Out For

by Sam Perley

After a long hiatus, NBA basketball finally returns to the airwaves starting this Thursday, July 30 for the conclusion of the 2019-20 regular season and forthcoming playoffs. The 22-team bubble constructed at Disney World in Orlando, FL is unlike anything the sporting community as ever seen, setting the stage for a once-in-a-lifetime finish to an unforgettable campaign.

Brace for the Unpredictable

The Orlando bubble is already one of the most unconventional chapters in NBA history, so look for coaches to follow suit with some potentially wild lineups and rotations. Houston already began utilizing an entirely small-ball lineup earlier this year and in a scrimmage last Wednesday afternoon, Denver rolled out an all-six-seven-or-taller starting five with seven-footer Nikola Jokić at point guard and 7-3 two-way rookie Bol Bol at small forward.

Could we see more upsets in the opening rounds of the postseason with home court advantage no longer in play? Will the lack of fans help or hurt teams? How will some players handle multiple months on end of isolation from the real world? With so many different variables now in play, the race for the title is as seemingly wide open as it’s ever been before.

Injuries Already Shaking Things Up

Four unexpected months of rest and rehabilitation could be a blessing in disguise for a few playoff-bound teams. Philadelphia All-Star Ben Simmons (lower back) Orlando defensive stalwart Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson (ruptured patella tendon; hasn’t played since January 2018) could all play vital roles for their respective teams down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Portland might be the biggest beneficiary though with Jusuf Nurkić (leg fracture) and Zach Collins (dislocated shoulder) now healthy and available to join Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony in the team’s frontcourt rotation. Sitting 3.5 games out of eighth place, no team is in better position to make a late charge than the reigning Western Conference Finalists.

Likewise, ailments to Utah’s Bojan Bogdanović (wrist surgery), San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder surgery), the Lakers’ Rajon Rondo (fractured thumb), Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis (plantar fasciitis) and Houston’s Eric Gordon (ankle) and a significant portion of the Brooklyn Nets roster (various injuries, COVID-19) could also factor into restarted play.

The West’s Race for the Playoffs

Besides Portland, New Orleans (3.5 GB), Sacramento (3.5 GB), San Antonio (4 GB) and Phoenix (6 GB) are all chasing Memphis for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. At the conclusion of the eight-game finish to the regular season, the ninth-place team will need to be within four games of the eighth-place team in order to force a play-in scenario. The two teams will play up to two times with the eighth-place team needing just one win in order to advance.

According to TheRinger.com, Portland has the third-hardest schedule in the restart, while New Orleans has the 22nd-most challenging slate of games remaining. Look for the race to ultimately become a two-team battle between the Grizzlies and Pelicans, who are respectively led by a pair of star rookies in Ja Morant and Zion Williamson.

Social Justice Platforms

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer over Memorial Day weekend sparked worldwide protests revolving around racism and equality. A number of players have elected to put messages on the back of their jerseys relating to civil rights, with many also expected to kneel for the National Anthem in order to continue bringing attention to these issues.

LeBron James, Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon, Enes Kanter, Marcus Smart and Patty Mills have been some of the most vocal players in terms of speaking out over the past several weeks. With a handful of players initially hesitant to join the restart in the midst of the social unrest, many will participate and use playing in Orlando as another platform to get their messages out.

Crowning a Champion (And No Asterisk Needed)

Adding an asterisk to lessen the 2020 NBA Champions because of the unique format will be an extremely unnecessary endeavor unless it’s to amplify that this will be the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging title to obtain in league history. And there’s plenty at stake from a legacy standpoint for the league’s superstar players.

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are both shooting to become the first NBA player to win three championships on three different teams as a leading man. Giannis Antetokounmpo will likely be winning a second consecutive MVP sometime in the next few weeks and the chatter might start growing louder the longer he goes without winning a ring.

Former MVP winners and Houston Rockets teammates James Harden and Russell Westbrook are also looking to bounce back a bit after recent postseason shortcomings. Five-time All-NBAer Paul George, who hasn’t appeared in a second-round playoff game since 2014, will also be carrying a heavy load for a Clippers team that sacrificed a multitude of assets to get him to Los Angeles last July.

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