The NBA revealed plans over the weekend to resume the Covid-19-altered season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida. More good news: Twenty-one teams have opened their practice facilities, and Kevin Durant is arguing with fans on social media again. There are plenty of hurdles that must be overcome, but real NBA basketball, not the 2K version, seems probable (albeit without fans).
Teams could finish five to seven games of the regular season, but the league still hasn’t ruled out a play-in tournament for the playoffs. (We also don’t know how players will get by if they must be separated from their entourages.) Let’s take a look at who wins and who loses if the season is resumed in Orlando later this summer.
BROOKLYN NETS: Durant and Kyrie Irving were ruled out for the season ions ago, but both could theoretically return. As of last week, Kyrie -- who had right shoulder surgery in March -- was back on the practice court, and if he has six more weeks to train, mid-July seems like a reasonable time to return. Durant's manager/business partner/Svengali Rich Kleiman said KD’s return is "unrealistic," but both guys were considering playing for Team USA at the Olympics, which would have also started in late July. Adding two superstars turns the seven-seed Nets into a playoff spoiler, even if teams have a worse record with Uncle Drew on the floor.
UTAH JAZZ: When Bojan Bogdanovic had wrist surgery on May 19, Utah lost a 20-points-per-game scorer, as well as its best outside shooter. The lineup of Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell was the second-best five-man lineup in the NBA this season, outscoring opponents by 153 points. But beyond replacing Bogdanovic, who is out four to six months, the Jazz must hope Gobert and Mitchell have repaired their relationship, which was fractured because of Covid-19. Even if they can get along and Gobert starts practicing more responsible hygiene, the Jazz have gone from dark-horse Finals contender to first-round underdog.
INDIANA PACERS: Victor Oladipo claims he was only 80% healthy during his return from his quad tendon injury. Now he’ll have three extra months of rehab under his belt if play resumes in late July, and he should be a lot closer to the All-Star who took LeBron to a Game 7 in 2018. If the playoffs had started on time, the Pacers would have had a limited Oladipo and no Malcolm Brogdon, who injured his quad March 4. They’ll still miss the injured Jeremy Lamb, but having their starting backcourt healthy could give the team a shot in the postseason. Also, given the expected issues with foreign players returning from overseas from quarantine, the Pacers are at an advantage with only two international players on the roster.
TORONTO RAPTORS: It may be difficult for teams to shift their operations to Florida, but it will be much harder for international players, many of whom returned home after the season was shut down. The United States claims it will exempt professional athletes from corona-related travel bans, but there’s no guarantee the other countries will agree. Dallas is probably checking frantically to see if the NBA has an extradition treaty with Luka Doncic’s home country of Slovenia. But the team most hurt is the NBA’s lone international team, the Raptors, who have seen many of their players leave Canada during the break. If they must return to Toronto for a training camp, they’d face a two-week quarantine, and then another quarantine period for play in Orlando. That not exactly a great team-building experience.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS/MILWAUKEE BUCKS: LeBron James would be as rested as he's ever been in his NBA career, thanks to missing the playoffs last season and adding a three-month break. Assuming he hasn’t been indulging in too many Taco Tuesdays, LeBron should be extremely, terrifyingly fresh for the postseason. The other conference leader, the Milwaukee Bucks, also would get a boost because the Lopez twins are the world's biggest Disney fans. Brook and Robin would be extremely energized to play so close to the rides and characters they love at Disney World, where Brook even owns a house. The only downside is that costumed characters might distract Robin, given his long-standing feud with the mascot community.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: It has been an inconsistent season for the Sixers, who are tied with Indiana for fifth place in the East. They’ve been nearly unbeatable at home, where they’re 29-2, but they’ve been very beatable on the road, where they’re 10-24. In Philly, this team plays like the ‘86 Celtics, and away, they’re basically the 2020 Cleveland Cavaliers. We hate to break it to Ben Simmons & Co., but the playoffs are going to be all road games for anyone except the Magic and Brook Lopez. If we get a compressed playoff schedule with fewer off days, that’s not good for a player who needs regular rest like Joel Embiid, nor is the idea that Joel’s been able to drink as many Shirley Temples as he wants for three months.
LA CLIPPERS: A compressed playoff schedule would hurt load-management king Kawhi Leonard but help Paul George, who hasn’t been fully healthy for the whole 2019-20 season. The reason the Clips are winners is that they were on a collision course with the Lakers in the conference finals, which would have meant essentially seven Lakers home games at the Staples Center.
Jack Nicholson, who must watch the games from home instead of his courtside seat.
PHOENIX SUNS: The Suns are winners only if the NBA really does experiment with a play-in tournament. But should the NBA try it, likely with teams seeded 8-12 in each league in a single-elimination bracket, the Suns would technically break their 10-year postseason drought. The Knicks would also be very excited about the chance to play any kind of meaningful basketball after the All-Star break, and ESPN would be very excited at the chance at spectacular ratings for playoff games featuring the Pels' Zion Williamson.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: The Warriors wrote off this season once Steph Curry suffered a broken hand in October, and they can’t be happy if the season is played out. With the NBA’s worst record (15-50), they'd probably send a JV squad to Orlando –- no Curry, no Klay Thompson, no Draymond Green –- so they don’t risk their lottery odds by accidentally winning a few games. If the season resumes, they’d lose the chance to go into 2020-21 with their five-year Finals streak intact.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: The Rockets were already playing like they had nothing to lose before the pandemic. It’s the last year of Coach Mike D’Antoni’s contract, there are no centers on the roster, and they’ve traded three first-round picks in the past 10 months. But now that owner Tilman Fertitta has joked with the president about firing GM Daryl Morey, the us-against-the-world mentality of the team extends to the front office. They’re fired up, and while the Rockets usually fall apart in May, perhaps July could be different for James Harden.
BOSTON CELTICS: Because it has a young team -- with two, bright young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown -- Boston could be aided by a compressed schedule. But they also have the NBA’s biggest gamer, Gordon Hayward, who is at risk for carpal tunnel problems given how injury-prone he has been and how much he’s played League Of Legends while sheltering in place.
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