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NBA Prepares for Season in a Bubble

Posted on July 28, 2020 by Dean Hybl

After joining the rest of the country in taking a pause back in March, the NBA is looking to get back to work with a return to game action this week. If all goes well, the NBA hopes to crown a 2019-2020 champion by mid-October.

Unlike Major League Baseball, which is attempting to play games in home cities, the NBA made the decision to create a bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando with all games being played at one location. Like MLB and other leagues, they will be playing in an empty arena.

Given the challenges that MLB has already seen after just one weekend of teams staying in hotels and traveling on airplanes, it looks like pretty good strategy by the NBA to take the travel element out of the equation and instead have everyone in one location without regular outside contact.

Of course, given the nuances that the COVID-19 virus has shown, there is no guarantee that even creating a bubble can keep 200+ athletes safe for an extended period of time. However, if odds were being given, I would have to say I feel the NBA is more likely to be playing to the conclusion of their season than MLB or even the NFL, which also plans to play in home stadiums beginning in September.

On the court, it should be an interesting time as the player return from a long hiatus and get used to playing in a smaller arena and with no spectators. They have been playing practice games the last week to get back into game shape.

Instead of including all 30 teams, the NBA chose to bring back 22 teams for the conclusion of the regular season. The criteria for choosing the teams was based on which teams had the legitimate potential to make the playoffs.

Each team will play eight regular season games over the next three weeks before the start of the playoffs. There could also be a play-in tournament for the eighth spot in each conference if the eighth seed at the end of the season is not more than four games ahead of the ninth seed.

In the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets are currently in seventh place with a half game lead over the eighth seed Orlando Magic. The Washington Wizards are currently in ninth place, but are five and a half games behind the Magic, so have some work to do if they want to cause a play-in tournament.

The Western Conference is much more cluttered near the bottom. The top seven seeds are all secured, but six teams have a chance to be the eighth seed. Memphis is currently eighth with a three and a half game edge over Portland. Immediately behind the Trailblazers are the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns. If any of those teams get hot over the eight-game regular season games they could easily be within the margin needed for a play-in tournament.

My guess is that the NBA is hoping for several teams to be in contention for the final spot when the season ends.

Once the eight playoff teams in each conference are finalized, the playoffs will be conducted with the same format as in past years. The only difference will be that with no travel needed, the expectation is for each round to take about two weeks. The first round is scheduled to begin on August 17. The conference semifinals start on August 31. The conference finals begin September 15 and the NBA Finals begin September 30.

As teams are eliminated, the players will return to their homes and families, making the bubble smaller as they move towards the championship.

Given the long layoff, it is easy to forget where things stood when the season was stopped.

The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the league at 53-12 and are six and a half games ahead of the second place Toronto Raptors. It should not take long for the Bucks to secure the top seed, though with no travel or home fans, that may not be quite as important an advantage as in past years.

While Toronto is likely to hang on to the second spot, there is a battle for the third through sixth seeds as the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers are all within four and a half games of each other.

The scenario in the Western Conference is similar. The Los Angeles Lakers have a five and a half game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers are only a game and a half ahead of third place Denver and five and a half games ahead of the seventh seeded Dallas Mavericks. With the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets all lumped in-between the Clippers and Mavericks, there could be some interesting juggling for position over the final eight games.

In a normal season the big emphasis during this final stretch would be giving the players rest after a long year. That shouldn’t be a major issue this year after such a long layoff. This year the challenge will be regaining team form and chemistry. Especially in an environment where you have the potential to suddenly lose a player if he tests positive for COVID-19.

There is no doubt that anything could happen over the next three months, but I think if you are checking out the best online casino for odds, the smart money will be on the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks being the last two teams playing in Orlando.

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