The National Basketball Association is back, ladies and gentlemen. The seeding games have kicked off July 30 with all 22 teams scheduled to play 8 games each to position themselves for the post season. For the top 6 teams in the Eastern and Western Conference, the only thing left to finish is for them to secure the top 4 spots to gain a semblance of a home court advantage where the home teams get to project their logos and sponsors in the backdraft of the playing courts in the Disney Wide World of Sports bubble in Orlando, Florida. Even in the absence of fans due to the global Covid 19 pandemic, the NBA did a wonderful job in making the bubble concept work.
Keeping players confined in hotels inside the bubble packaged with stringent measures of testing, practice schedule blocks and team service routines allowed the 22 teams to get back in shape, complete the scrimmages and eventually restart the 2019-2020 season without a hitch.
Do we expect smooth sailing for the NBA moving forward? I believe the bubble set up has a better chance of success. Unlike the US Major League Baseball that doesn’t follow a bubble set up, there has been no reports of a covid 19 positive case when NBA players entered Disney. Whatever protocols the NBA put in place to protect their players seem to be working. I don’t expect 0 cases throughout the completion of the interrupted NBA season but even if there is an occurrence, I believe the league’s health control procedures will keep everything in check.
This early, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers look very sharp in beating the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers respectively over the weekend. The Bucks overpowered the C’s and capitalised on their superior height advantage down low with Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo simply too big against the Celtics power forward combination of Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward. I think that some serious tweaking of their small ball system needs to be done if the Celtics are expected to overcome the Bucks and reach the NBA Finals.
The Celtics have stuck with their regular season starting 5 of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Daniel Theiss, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum. This starting unit’s tallest player is Theiss standing 6’8. Match this up with the Bucks’ Lopez (7’0) and the Greek Freak Gianis Antetokounmpo (6’11), then they simply won’t be able to dominate the boards. I believe that when it comes to a 7 game playoff series, the Celtics should pair up Theiss with Enes Kanter (6’10) a bit more frequently to preserve Tatum and Hayward down the stretch.
In the battle of LA teams, the Lakers got the better of the Clippers 103-101. Both teams lost key players in the bubble with the Lakers unable to play Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo while the Clippers missed the services of their sixth man of the year candidates Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. The Clippers have been used to playing an incomplete roster with load management being applied to superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George but I expect them to be in full force come the playoffs.
The Bucks, Celtics, Lakers and Clippers are favourites to make it to the NBA finals but I also consider the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers to be dark horses that can pull the rug under the favourites.
For the Houston Rockets’ small ball rampage, I just feel playing 8 players without a legitimate center would simply be too overbearing in a 7 game series. They will be lucky to get past the first round unless they decide to play veteran rim protector Tyson Chandler to help control the boards for at least 18 minutes a game. They are still an interesting team to watch though. Their 153-149 OT conquest of the Dallas Mavericks on July 31 gave us a glimpse of their strategy: play “center less” basketball, run and blitz through the entire 48 minutes while shooting 3’s left and right. The formula may work well in the regular seeding games but may possibly back fire in the playoffs where teams can predict plays and patterns and make adjustments.
The New Orleans Pelicans still seem to be playing it conservatively with super rookie Zion Williamson. The first two seeding games saw Zion play merely 15 mins a game. The minutes restriction has something to do with the rookie’s injury history but something odd happened when he left the bubble to attend to a family emergency. We have seen pictures of a lean and mean looking Williamson earlier last month but he resurfaced somehow looking like he gained weight again which leads me to believe that his reduced minutes can also be attributed to that. The Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies are teams favoured to snag the last seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The NBA has found a way to play professional ball amidst a pandemic. Loss of revenue is expected by virtue of missing fans in the stands but other revenue streams like television, live stream purchase, and video on demand are expected to pick up. Earnings will most likely not be the same as the previous years which will impact the 2020-2021 salary cap and free agency movements. Team owners should be happy to settle for less profit this year and players would also feel the impact but the fact remains that this bubble can be the prototype when the next season launches. If the NBA made it work, I am sure all other professional sports can borrow a few concepts from Commissioner Adam Silver to sustain their leagues in the coming months … until such time that a cure or vaccine is developed to control the pandemic.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)