After a four-month delay, the LA Clippers are officially less than 24 hours away from returning to the floor.
On Wednesday, July 22, at 3:00 p.m. ET, the Clippers will face-off with the Orlando Magic in what will be the first official NBA game since the season was suspended on March 11.
Not only is this is a big deal for the Clippers, who effectively begin their title chase tomorrow, but it's huge for the league as well. After months of diligent planning and preparation, fans will finally get their first look at what basketball will be for the next three months.
So how exactly is the first scrimmage going to go?
For starters: Expect plenty of rust.
A full offseason's worth of time has passed since the Clippers last played on March 10, and unlike a normal offseason, the team has not been able to participate in standard basketball activities. Training facilities were open for a brief period of time and some players had access to home gyms, but for the most part, things have been strictly limited.
Because of that, we shouldn't expect guys like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to come out in mid-season form (if they even play in tomorrow's contest), and we certainly shouldn't expect it to be a clean game. Chemistry will be shaky, turnovers will come in bunches, and players are going to get winded much quicker than usual.
Fortunately, there are some rule changes in place for each team's first scrimmage that will make things a bit easier. First of all, quarters will be limited to 10 minutes, rather than the standard 12. Additionally, there will be a reduction of "normal game-presentation elements" until the seeding games begin, allowing players to focus on getting comfortable with the new setup.
Secondly, don't expect the intensity to be too high.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters on Tuesday's Zoom call that he expects each scrimmage to get increasingly competitive, with the first actually being treated as a scrimmage rather than a preseason-type environment.
"We're looking at this as an opportunity to get better for both teams. So coaches are absolutely sharing things. We're asking them in this quarter can you do this, on-side, out-of-bounds, can you do this defense, then what do you want me to do... Right now I think most of the coaches are in the 'get better' mode, not exactly the 'win a pre-season game' mode."
This doesn't mean guys will simply be going through the motions tomorrow — some players will absolutely treat their first scrimmage as something more than it is — but this will (hopefully) be the least game-ready that the Clippers look for the remainder of the season.
And finally, we shouldn't base too much on this first appearance.
There are a number of reasons why this first scrimmage shouldn't be viewed as an actual representation of how each team will perform in the bubble. For one thing, the Clippers most likely will not have a full roster available for tomorrow's game, as Ivica Zubac, Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell aren't currently with the team.
That means there will be non-rotation guys getting a lot of minutes, and on top of that, some wacky lineups that we probably won't see again — especially not in the postseason.
But despite everything that LA's first scrimmage won't be, it'll still be exciting and well worth your time. It may not be the start of a new season, but with how long we've waited for this return, it sure feels like one.