No baseball in 2020?
Fine by me. If those selfish and delusional players and owners can’t agree to provisions to start up this year’s Major League Baseball season, we should still be able to enjoy a bonanza of overlapping sports, likely beginning in July, that will help us baseball fans all but forget that MLB has not been able to start its season.
After all, if all goes well and as planned, the NBA, NHL, NFL, and even MLS will all be playing simultaneously, and the absence of sports (MarbleLympics, anyone? Look it up) that we have endured for the last two-and-a-half months will be replaced by a veritable cavalcade of activity, including spellbinding playoffs for both the NHL and NBA.
While MLB twiddles its collective thumbs, all of the other major sports have reached tentative agreements to plow forward with their seasons, including the NBA, which outlined its postseason schedule earlier this week.
It’s somewhat similar to, but not quite like, the NHL, which will jump directly to the playoffs, albeit with eight more teams than a normal NHL postseason would have included.
The NBA, because it sensed that certain teams would scream bloody murder if the league bypassed the balance of the regular season and immediately qualified the 16 teams that were eligible back in March when the season shut down, is now including 22 teams out of the league’s 30, which will play up to eight “regular-season” games to determine seeding for the playoffs.
It’s pretty bad that all six of the extra teams invited to the ball are under .500, including 24-40 Washington. In all, nine of the 22 playoff teams have losing records, and after the teams play their eight games, the 16 teams with the best records will move on to likely best-of-seven series the rest of the way.
Unlike the NHL, which set up its playoff system with 12 teams from each conference, the NBA is including nine from the East but a whopping 13 from the West, although every one of the West teams has a better record than the putrid Wizards.
It looks like all of the NBA playoff games will be played at a sports complex in Orlando, and virus testing will be consistent and carefully monitored. Teams will begin training camps in that central location starting July 9-11, with opening games slated to begin July 31, and teams will play the next eight games that were on their schedules at the time of the shutdown, unless one of the opponents scheduled is one of the eight teams that did not qualify for the revised format. If the playoffs go the distance, Game 7 of the Finals is scheduled for Oct. 12.
The eight-game regular-season windup will last 16 days, with five to six games per day. There will be four hours between contests on each of the three individual courts to accommodate overtimes, cleanings, and warm-ups, and in that eight-game format, each team is expected to play just one back-to-back game. The NBA Finals format is expected to include games every other day.
The nine teams from the East will be, in order, Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Orlando, and Washington. The Celtics seem locked into the third seed, because even if the Raptors were to go just 4-4 to complete the regular season, Boston would have to win seven of eight to overtake them. It’s not impossible, of course: the Celtics apparently will play 53-12 Milwaukee, Washington (twice), 46-18 Toronto, 30-34 Brooklyn, 32-33 Memphis, 29-37 Portland, and 41-24 Miami. Boston has beaten all of those teams at least once this season.
What will be interesting to watch is which team will claim the sixth seed, thereby likely drawing the Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs. Right now, Indiana and Philly are both tied with 39-26 records, and Boston would certainly prefer to face the Pacers than the much-bigger 76ers, since Philadelphia handily took three of four matchups with the C’s this season.
The Sixers are a notoriously bad road team (10-24 this season), so it bears watching how they will play on a “neutral” court the entire postseason, but Philly could easily steer itself into a top-four seed over the eight-game opening stretch – especially since it would get to play the Wizards twice and 26-39 Phoenix once, and would face only one team currently in the top four in either conference. Meanwhile, the Pacers will face the Sixers, Heat, Suns, Magic, Rockets, both LA teams, and the Nets.
This year’s NBA champion will likely emerge from the West, and I would peg the Lakers, Clippers, and Denver Nuggets as the favorites; no one else other than the Jekyll-and-Hyde Rockets really warrant serious consideration otherwise.
The Bucks are the prohibitive favorite to emerge from the East, but don’t rule out the defending champion Raptors, who boast the league’s second-ranked defense and somehow have a better winning percentage this year than last year despite the losses of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Do the Celtics have a chance? Certainly. In head-to-head matchups, Boston has split thrilling overtime contests with the Clippers, blasted the Lakers by 32 in January and dropped a road contest on a last-second LeBron basket (in a game Boston played without starting point guard Kemba Walker), took two of three against Toronto, and split with the Bucks.
Boston has a real depth of talent among its top six players, but beyond that, its bench has been hit-or-miss for a good part of its 43-21 season, although the team has been almost as good on the road (20-12) as at home (23-9), and in this kind of season – where teams will have been off for four-and-a-half months by the time the season resumes – all bets are off, and probably any one of a half-dozen teams could wear the crown in October.
Every playoff team should be healthy again (save for the Nets, who likely won’t get returns from Kevin Durant nor Kyrie Irving), and the neutral-court setting and lack of fans will eliminate any kind of home-court advantage, which teams like the Bucks (28-3 at home) and Sixers (29-2) thrived upon during the regular season.
It will also be interesting to watch how the NBA rewards its higher seeds with some kind of advantage, which could include better practice times, superior accommodations, piped-in crowd noise favoring the “home” team, and perhaps even hometown PA announcers and musical selections.
At any rate, we’re hopefully going to see an NBA postseason like no other, and while the higher-seeded teams will no longer get the home games and the adoring crowds that could spark them to a title, the champion will have undoubtedly proven itself to be the best in the NBA, given the circumstances and the challenges they’ll have faced along the way.