The NBA is officially set to return next week and there are still many questions that need to be answered. How will the pandemic impact the bubble? Can the NBA maintain a potential outbreak? How will the league continue to support social justice movements? What about the playoff races? The Crossover asked its staff to think about some of the biggest questions on their mind ahead of the NBA restart.
How far can the Sixers go?
Call me crazy—but even after finishing a seven-day quarantine at Disney, I’m still fascinated by the Sixers. Brett Brown divulged this week that Philly has been lining up Ben Simmons at power forward. That moves Shake Milton into the starting lineup and gives Philly (on paper) a decent three-point shooting team. I’m on record as saying defense wins (this) championship, and the Sixers have lockdown defenders. If Simmons and Joel Embiid can figure out the frontcourt—no small matter when you figure Embiid needs to be a fixture in the low post—Philadelphia could be a real surprise when this season resumes.
How will the NBA continue to support social justice movements?
As the NBA gets ready to get back on the court, I find myself most interested to see if the league can do more than simply raise awareness for social justice causes. For now, the league is giving players corporate-approved statements they can wear on their jerseys to bring attention to civil rights issues. This step isn’t insignificant—the visibility is important—but awareness is not the entire battle. (The jersey rollout has also been a little clunky because of the limited scope of the approved messages.)
But what is the next step? The players themselves have done a great job, from attending protests weeks prior to entering the campus to using their media availability to continue discussing issues such as police brutality.
At this point, I want to see what the league can do on a larger level. Will owners start to be more vocal? Will the league start donating to specific causes championed by its most vocal players? The NBA’s response to our current civil rights moment has been far from a failure. The league seems genuinely interested in working with players on some level to keep the conversation going. Once the games start, however, I most want to see what the NBA as an institution can do with its actions.
What impact would a series of positive COVID-19 tests have once the season resumes play?
All the videos shared by @NBABubbleLife and vlogs from Matisse Thybulle and JaVale McGee make for great bubble content as the NBA world awaits the resumption of play. But when you zoom out and consider why the bubble was needed in the first place, one of the central questions that many had going into the bubble remains prevalent: what impact would a COVID-19 breakout have on the season? And more broadly, how many positive tests would it take to shut the league down? Players appear to be acclimating relatively well to their new surroundings and hopefully Disney remains COVID-19-free. Still, it’s too early to say that the experiment will definitively work or that it has worked. The initial phases appear to be successful, but this experiment has a lot of time left in it.
Will a No. 9 seed make the playoffs via a play-in series?
Among the many changes in the NBA's restart, it will be particularly interesting to see if the league's proposed play-in scenario will actually result in a No. 8 seed losing its playoff spot. Currently, the Orlando Magic hold a 5.5-game lead on the Washington Wizards for the final playoff spot in the East, while the Memphis Grizzlies stand 3.5 games over the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings in the West. If a team is within four games of the No. 8 seed by the end of the remaining eight regular-season games, it will have the chance to take that team's place by beating it two consecutive times in a best-of-three series.
With certain teams, such as the Brooklyn Nets and Wizards, being impacted by COVID-19 results and injuries, and with a tight Western Conference race, an upset at the bottom of the standings could be in the cards. It may not matter once that team faces the No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs, but it is another wrinkle to keep an eye on heading into the season's restart.
Will we see the Battle for Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals?
All due respect to Houston, Denver and Oklahoma City, but the playoffs will feel incomplete to a degree unless we see LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard square off in Orlando. James isn't getting any younger. Leonard and/or Paul George could leave Los Angeles in the coming seasons. These are the clear top two teams in the West, and potentially the best two teams in the league. Add in a fascinating cast of characters behind the two Finals MVPs, and there's no potential matchup more exciting than Lakers vs. Clippers.
The winner will win the city's supremacy for 2020, and potentially the next decade. Either LeBron will entrench the Lakers dominance, or Kawhi will bring the Clippers to heights never before seen in franchise history. Let's hope we close September with a Western Conference finals for the ages.