The NBA Returns: What To Watch For – Part 1

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, and Anish Dhondi

The NBA is officially coming back on July 31st in DisneyWorld with no fans, and we, along with all of you guys reading this, cannot wait for the return. By the time the league would resume, players would have been on a 4-month layoff due to the season being suspended for the Coronavirus. A quick run-through of how the return will work, the NBA has only invited 22 teams to Orlando, with the bottom 2 Western Conference teams (Warriors and Timberwolves) and bottom 6 Eastern Conference teams (Bulls, Pistons, Cavaliers, Hornets, Hawks, and Knicks) being amongst the 8 that were not invited. The top 6 teams in the East have clinched their playoff spots already, and the top 7 have clinched in the West. Each team will play 8 games and they will be played amongst the 22 teams remaining. 

As far as restrictions, the NBA has created a ‘bubble campus’ within Orlando where all the teams, coaches, players, staff, etc. are required to stay, and only 3 family members can be with you, and they almost must be within the ‘bubble’. Along with that, there will be tests every day for COVID-19 for all players, coaches, and staff, and if you are tested positive, you are out for at least 7 days, meaning that in the playoffs, that could be 3-4 games. Also, teams will eat at restaurants together and can only play golf, and the DisneyWorld rides will not be open for families.  

Now that we have given an overview of the regulations, we bring you to the biggest storylines of the return of basketball:

Saransh’s Biggest Storylines

Kyrie and KD Sitting Out

Kevin Durant was injured last year in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, and then returned for the NBA Finals, where he would end up getting injured yet again, and has not been back on the court since. Despite the recent reports that he is healthy, he will sit out and get ready for a big title push next season, where Kyrie Irving will also be back and healthy. Irving has been injured off-and-on this season, and even though he is healthy as well (probably healthier than Durant considering Durant is still doing his last bits of rehab), he is sitting out as well. This is a big storyline because, for one, they only have a 0.5 game lead on Orlando for the 7th-seed, and a 6-game lead for the 8th-seed. With no superstars, a thin bench, and only 8 games to play, Brooklyn could potentially have to play-in for the 8th-seed to make the playoffs, or even miss them altogether. Second, if they do make the playoffs, they will face either Milwaukee or Toronto (Boston or Miami is possible but unlikely), but whichever team it is, they will easily sweep Brooklyn. Next season is when we will really start talking about them.

The ‘Other’ Contenders: Miami, Houston, and Dallas

All the talk has really been about the LA teams, Boston, Milwaukee, and Toronto matching up in the NBA Finals, and everyone seems to overlook the other true contenders. I’m talking about Miami, Houston, and Dallas, the teams that have been playing ‘in the shadows’, so to speak, yet still getting the job done every single night. Miami and Houston at one point in the season were as high as the 2-seed, and Dallas was the 4th-seed earlier. Now, with them being at 4th, 6th, and 7th, respectively, they face a different battle than expected, but with 8 games left and still a good shot at a higher seed, you never know. The biggest challenger to Milwaukee is Miami, and the biggest challengers to the LA teams are Houston and Dallas (Utah would be in the conversation if Bogdanovic was not injured. He is now out for the season). Miami with their size, balance, and 3-point shooting to match up with the best in the East, Houston with their unique small-ball lineup, and Dallas with Luka, Porzingis, and other upcoming young stars, these teams are going to surprise a lot of people this season and be around as contenders for years to come.

Nikhil’s Biggest Storylines

The Bubble Teams, And The Playoff Implications That Follow

It’s no secret the NBA wants to get as much viewership and as much buzz back into its games, and the best way to do that is to include as many teams as viably possible into its return. The method that the board has settled on is nothing short of complex and mildly confusing, but in many ways addresses all concerns of proper seeding, fair play, and equal opportunity for each ball club. The NBA firstly has invited 22 teams, which are all teams that were in the top 8 in each conference once the season was paused, as well as teams within 6-games of the 8th seed (New Orleans, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, and Phoenix in the West, and Washington in the East). These teams will play 8 regular season style, “seeding games” to determine their positions going into the make-shift playoffs. A possible play-in tournament between the No. 8 and No. 9 teams in a conference could be utilized if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth. In that case, the No. 9 seed would need to beat the No. 8 seed twice to earn the playoff berth, while the No. 8 would need one win from the two potential games. From there, a typical NBA style playoff structure would follow, and a champion will be crowned. It is the battle for the 8th seed, particularly in the West, that catches my eye. As the table stands, Memphis holds the 8th seed, and Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento are all tied for 9th, with San Antonio and Phoenix not far behind. I expect Portland to walk away as the 8th seed once the whole thing plays out, simply based on their experience, and talent. In all honesty, they should be higher up in the table given that Lillard is a bonafide superstar in this league, and he’s with a surrounding cast including CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony. Yes, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson (both of which I will elaborate on in a bit) are very prominent figures in their own right, but the teams they command simply aren’t at the level the Blazers are. I do expect to come down to the wire, possibly with the play-in tournament having to be used as well.

The NBA’s Polarizing Rookies Are Instrumental in the Bounce Back of the League.

The NBA has lost millions due to the pandemic, and since the virus is a worldwide phenomenon, they are losing revenue from everywhere all at the same time. So, in order to bounce back accordingly, the league needs to make every money-making move possible with this return they have in mind. This is definitely part of the reason why more than the standard 16 teams were invited back to the season, by adding the additional six teams, 88 games are effectively injected back into the schedule, and the collective salary reduces loss by $300 million. What is even more of a motivating factor is the massive viewership garnered by Zion Williamson and Ja Morant (Mainly Williamson but i’m trying to be nice). The No. 1 pick in this years draft has carried an insane amount of buzz ever since his high school days, and is a huge money maker for the league. By including New Orleans back into the season, and possibly the playoffs in some capacity, the league effectively boosts their revenue potential, allowing the world to focus once again on Williamson, and the hype to return to the league. Couple this with the lesser but similar effect Morant has had with Memphis, and you have two very prominent incentives for people to start watching again, and get hooked back into the league. By appealing to what the people want to see, the league directly propels themselves back to the position they were in before the pandemic striked.

Anish’s Biggest Storylines

No Home Court Advantage for Players

With this new format being in place teams lack the comparative home court advantage that they would have normally received in the playoffs. Normally a 1st seed team would have the advantage in a series against the 8th seed team, as the first 2 games would be in the 1st seeds court and if it were to extend to a 7 game series the 1st seed would get the extra home game. Now the home court advantage has been eliminated in order to maintain the safety of players. Can you imagine watching an NBA game with no crowd noise? Silence in the background and strictly the sound of the basketball would be a dull game without fan reaction. Ideas have been thrown around as a possibility of the NBA incorporating crowd sound effects from its popular NBA based video game, NBA 2K. Although this sounds strange it may benefit in giving the audience a little more excitement during moments of the game where the crowd would normally get pumped up. Although home court advantage may not seem like a big deal to us, it’s a big deal to the players. Many players thrive in a home court setting with their own fans cheering them on giving them a boost in confidence on the court. An example of this is shown with superstar Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers. This season, Lillard averaged 31.9 PPG when playing on his home court, however that number dropped to 25.9 PPG when playing on an opponent’s court. This is a significant difference for one player and shows the importance of home court advantage which won’t be a factor in the playoffs this year so it’ll be interesting to see how these players perform.

Players Getting Back in Shape

The NBA has been suspended for months and after a couple games it will be the playoffs which is the most important time of year for teams because it’s all of the years work towards winning a championship. Many players however may not be in the same shape as they were prior to the suspension which can be an issue. Without the proper routine and training to get these player’s bodies ready for the rigorous pace of the NBA again, many injuries can occur. It will be interesting to see the difference between all these player’s peak performance during the regular season and the effect quarantine has had on some of their bodies with a lack of going to a gym or being able to consistently work out. Even if players were to be exercising, nothing quite matches the pace of an actual NBA game, so with these players in offseason mode it would be a struggle to quickly get back into shape with no preseason or 82 game ‘warm up’ for the playoffs. Will this affect the favorites for winning the championship this year? And what if a star player was to get Coronavirus or returns back to the game too quickly for his body and gets injured that would have him out for basically the entire playoffs? There are many dangerous factors in opening up this season after a long absence and we’ll see how it turns out.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html

The New Winning NBA Formula: Dynamic Duos for the Win

The 2019 NBA Free Agency was by far the best free agency in NBA history. While it might not have had guys like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade the way the 2010 Free Agency was, it changed the entire complexion of the NBA and created an NBA which is more evenly-balanced than ever. The number of teams that are now contenders is immensely high, as over half of the NBA is in a position to compete for an NBA Championship next season. Here are my thoughts on some of the best new NBA dynamic duos, how they will actually work, and other predictions for the dynamic duos:

D-Lo Will Get Traded, Steph and Klay Will Attempt to Revive the Warriors

I am not in any way saying that D’Angelo Russell is not an elite player or scorer in the NBA, in fact, he is one of the best, but as great of an offensive team as the Warriors have been for the past few years now, they have always relied on defense, especially against the main perimeter players of teams. Whether it has been Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala or Klay and Kevin Durant, they have always had 2 of their 3 perimeter players be elite defenders to make up for the defensive liability that is Stephen Curry. With Russell and Curry, however, in that backcourt, and no small forward who can be a solid perimeter defender, the Warriors defense simply will not work the same. Draymond Green is a great defender, but you cannot expect him to guard other great perimeter scorer’s night in and night out. Russell will be the one who will have to take the fall for Golden State’s defensive struggles, especially with Thompson out until about March. Not only that, but Russell will not be the leader of the team as he was with the Lakers and Nets, so him being able to defer to Curry and Thompson will not be something he is used to.

Kyrie and KD Will Be the Best in the East, But Maybe Not in the NBA

Kevin Durant suffered an Achilles injury during Game 6 of the NBA Finals which ended his career with the Golden State Warriors and ended his 2019-20 season, in which he will now be a member of the Brooklyn Nets, joining Kyrie Irving. Durant should be back to near his best, if not best form, even coming back from this devastating injury. That being said, it may not be enough to beat teams like the Lakers and Clippers, or even the Bucks, teams with more experience and depth. The Nets, outside of Durant and Kyrie, are very young and have little playoff experience, which may make it difficult for them to win an NBA Championship for a few years but contending shouldn’t be an issue.

LeBron and AD Will Be the Better Duo than PG and Kawhi

Before Paul George had been traded from Oklahoma City to the Clippers for 2 players and an absurd amount of draft picks (5, 4 of which are unprotected), Kawhi Leonard was set on joining the other Los Angeles team, the Lakers, where he would’ve joined LeBron and newly-acquired superstar Anthony Davis, making the next superstar-driven dynasty. However, Kawhi convinced PG to request a trade to the Clippers, and Kawhi joined after the trade. That being said, I think that not only will Davis and LeBron be a better duo, but the Lakers will be the better team. For starters, I think LeBron would be able to defer to Anthony Davis very well and even let Davis be the primary scorer, as there would be less defensive pressure on both of them. While the same would be true for Kawhi and PG, Paul George has struggled in the playoffs for years since leaving Indiana. ‘Playoff P’, as he calls his playoff self, isn’t a very threatening player, and doesn’t compare to ‘Playoff LeBron’. As far as the Lakers being the better LA team, they are simply the deeper and more experienced team, and it poses them as the NBA Finals favorite for years to come. Let the ‘Staples Center Locker Room’ rivalry begin and be the best NBA rivalry for years to come.

 

What the Finals Loss Means to the Legacy and Future of LeBron James

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the Golden State Warriors in 5 games in the NBA Finals, proving me wrong about the buildup of the Golden State Warriors team. However, one thing that has not and will not change for me is my opinion towards the legacy of LeBron James. LeBron played his heart out, averaging a triple-double in the NBA Finals (33.6 points per game, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), becoming the first player to average a triple-double in the NBA Finals. LeBron has 3 wins and 5 losses in NBA Finals, but his legacy is still as steady as Michael Jordan’s. Jordan went 6-0 in the NBA Finals, but was 6-7 getting there. LeBron is 8-4. What’s better, getting to the Finals, or just getting to the playoffs? Yeah, getting to the Finals, even if you lose. LeBron is the one who has made himself and others so good that he is guaranteed to make it to the Finals, just ask any team in the Eastern Conference. This year, his Cavs were outplayed by a much more superior Warriors team in the Finals. Sure, LeBron had All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but Golden State has 2 MVPs (Steph Curry and Kevin Durant), 3 of the greatest 3-point shooters ever (Steph, KD, and Klay Thompson), a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Draymond Green), and a Finals MVP (Andre Iguodala), just to beat LeBron and Cleveland. To me, that just proves how much talent is needed to beat a perfectly assembled LeBron James team. Now, let us take a look at the legacy of James, and his future.

LeBron’s Legacy

LeBron James, as we mentioned, is 3-5 in Finals, but let us look at the wins and losses more closely. In 2007, LeBron James single-handedly took his Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. LeBron, who was 22 at the time, was on the rise of being the ‘best player on the planet’, was playing stellar, but the San Antonio Spurs were too much in the NBA Finals, as he got swept. Then again, when you are only 22, your 2nd best player is named Jamario Moon (who was pretty bad, actually), and you are playing 3 Future Hall-of-Famers, expect to be swept. In 2011, when he became a member of the Miami Heat, he disappeared, not playing like himself, not wanting the ball, losing in 6 games. In 2012 and 2013, he became the ‘best player on the planet’, winning back-to-back championships over the OKC Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. 2014, in the rematch against the Spurs, the Spurs got their revenge. 2015, in LeBron’s return to the Cavs, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both got injured, and LeBron fought his way on his own to take the Warriors to 6 games, but needed help to win. 2016 and 2017 were split with Golden State, with a 7-game thriller (Warriors blew a 3-1 lead), and losing in 5 games this year. Overall, you cannot blame him for the losses to Golden State. This year, he played his heart out and got beat by a superior team, and in 2015, he did the same, but didn’t have his star counterparts. LeBron really is 3-3 (in terms of wins and losses responsible for in NBA Finals), but the fact that he has gotten there with more success than Jordan (not to mention that LeBron has always gotten past the first round, whereas Jordan has been swept in the first round), speaks volumes to his ability to lead a team to success.

LeBron’s Future

LeBron James won’t be getting much more talent for this Cavs team anytime soon without trading Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, or Tristan Thompson. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are options, but just Kevin Love for them isn’t enough. I think he should play it out next year, get to the Finals, maybe acquire better role players, and then test free agency in 2018.

LeBron fulfilled his lifelong promise of bringing a championship to Cleveland in 2016, so he has every right to leave the Cavs (again). Reports from Bleacher Report and CBS Sports say that James has considered going to Los Angeles, as he has a house there, and is looking to pursue ventures outside of basketball, and Hollywood is the best place to do it. He has been linked to LA for quite a few years now, dating back to 2007. Kobe Bryant decided to ask for a trade from LA, letting his ego get in the way as he wanted to win desperately. The trade never happened, but it put into perspective for the rest of James’ career that LA would be a possible place to go. If he is to leave, he is to go to either the Lakers or the Clippers. Both teams have great opportunity to beat the Warriors with James. The Lakers can get Paul George or Jimmy Butler (they should be able to get one of the two this year), they can draft Lonzo Ball who has huge superstar potential, and they can trade D’Angelo Russell or Jordan Clarkson for another superstar (of George and Butler, whichever one they do not get). LeBron could even build his dream superteam of his best friends Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, and get them to play with him in LA. This would allow him to have a young team with veteran leadership around him, and allow him beat Golden State. Since LeBron can beat the Eastern Conference with his eyes closed, he can win many more championships.

With the Clippers, if they keep Chris Paul and Blake Griffin this year, they will have their Big 3 with them and DeAndre Jordan. Then they can lure James in, who has a great relationship with Paul, acquire another guy like Carmelo or Wade, and then get more role players, and LeBron can have a team that can beat Golden State, and win championships. Either way, he will have more success down the road going to LA than in Cleveland, so it makes sense that he leaves (sources say he wants to and will leave in 2018). Who knows, maybe LeBron will have more rings than Jordan after all, and become the GOAT.

Sources of Info:

 

NBA Power Rankings: 2014-15 Season

The 2014-15 season could shape up a whole lot differently due to LeBron in Cleveland, Lance Stephenson in Charlotte, and the NBA Champion Spurs being dominant again. Here are the Power Rankings for the 2014-15 season.

1.  Chicago Bulls

A healthy Derrick Rose, newly signed Pau Gasol, and rookie Doug McDermott might have this team return to its glory days. Rose, after having played just 4 games in the last 2 seasons, should be better than ever. A championship is no guarantee, but they will probably end up at the top of the East.

2.   Oklahoma City Thunder

Reigning MVP Kevin Durant will be accompanied by a healthy Russell Westbrook, which means that they will have an easy road across the West. This might just be the season where OKC conquers the NBA

3.   Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James shocked not just Miami and Cleveland, but the whole world by coming home to Cleveland. His supporting cast is young, which guarantees that players around him will lay long-term, but a championship is a long ways to go.

4.   Miami Heat

Seriously? Miami? Number 4? Yes! They may have lost LeBron James, but D-Wade, Chris Bosh, and most of the team has re-signed. New additions Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger are huge additions who certainly fits well in an offense known for scoring big. Miami could make a surprise run through the playoffs, but representing the East in The Finals might be a year or 2 away.

5.   Dallas Mavericks

If only Rick Carlisle had a plan to beat the Spurs, then the Spurs wouldn’t have been the champions. Dirk has re-signed, Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler are big pickups, which makes them the biggest threat to all Western Conference teams. They will make a big splash come playoffs time.

6.   San Antonio Spurs

The defending champs are looking to defend their title, but all I wanna say is this: “OKC ARE THE KINGS OF THE WEST!” Sorry Spurs fans…

7.   Los Angeles Clippers

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is the new owner of the Clippers, but the roster is still the same. Doc Rivers will carry his team to the 4th seed in the West, and possibly to the Western Conference Finals.

8.   Golden State Warriors

Golden State has a nearly identical roster as last year, but Steve Kerr is the new addition. Kerr will take them to the playoffs, but getting past Round 1 is a 0% chance.

9.   New York Knicks

Phil Jackson has done great. He has got ‘Melo back, hired Derek Fisher, and Jackson will help out Fisher in implementing the Triangle Offense to the New York system. Amar’e Stoudemire will become an elite scorer again, and Panda Friend (formerly Metta World Peace/Ron Artest) will help out with the Triangle Offense. The Atlantic Division will belong to them once again.

10.   Washington Wizards

Paul Pierce came to Washington for some weird reason no one knows. If that reason is winning, DC isn’t exactly for you. Sure, they didn’t take it easy on teams like Chicago and Indiana, but they aren’t the same team.

11.   Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard and Terry Stotts have this team covered. They are ready to put on a show in the NBA.

12.   Indiana Pacers

Frank Vogel had a rough year last year, and with the loss of Lance Stephenson, the road only gets rougher.

13.   Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry re-signed immediately on Day 1 of Free Agency, and ever since last year, Toronto has become one of the more dangerous teams out there.

14.   Houston Rockets

James Harden. Dwight Howard. No ‘Melo. No LeBron. It has been a big blow for Houston this year. This coming season might not be so different.

15.   Brooklyn Nets

Brook Lopez is now healthy. Deron Williams is now healthy. Joe Johnson is now healthy. KG is now healthy. Jarrett Jack and new coach Lionel Hollins have come. Paul Pierce and new Bucks coach Jason Kidd have gone. This will be an odd season for Brooklyn.

16.   Charlotte Hornets

Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker are the stars, but the main headline despite a new team name and new look will be the fact that Lance Stephenson has come to Charlotte. This will improve their defense, but I doubt it’ll help them become contenders.

17.   Phoenix Suns

Phoenix was the most exciting team to watch last season, and that will not change. They will get to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

18.   Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis has had ups and downs lately, and now, it’ll go downward.

19.   Atlanta Hawks

Last year, the Hawks soared to the playoffs. This year, the Hawks won’t be allowed to soar.

20.   Boston Celtics

The Celtics will have Rondo healthy, and rookies Marcus Smart and James Young, who are players with tons of potential. Though the Celtics will probably be in the lotto again, the good news for Celtics fans is that they will be contending and winning titles in a few seasons (3+ seasons).

21.   New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis put on a show last year, as he was a contender for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Jrue Holiday should also help with making this team fun to watch, if not a winning team.

22.   Orlando Magic

Elfrid Payton from Louisiana-Lafayette and Aaron Gordon from Arizona were the 2 biggest surprise picks of the draft, and during this Summer League, they have shown potential. Orlando should end with a better record than last year.

23.   Denver Nuggets

Denver missed the playoffs last year, and this year will continue this playoff drought.

24.   Sacramento Kings

Sacramento will have Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins healthy, and the biggest NBA player (Sim Bhullar from India, 360 lbs), but they aren’t good enough to get this team to the playoffs.

25.   Philadelphia 76ers

Nerlens Noel, the Number 6 pick in last year’s draft, will make his debut this coming season.

26.   Los Angeles Lakers

Julius Randle was a good pick, Kobe will not retire yet, but they will be near the bottom of the West again.

27.   Milwaukee Bucks

Jabari Parker, the Number 2 pick in this year’s draft, will be a definite Rookie of the Year candidate.

28.   Detroit Pistons

Josh Smith is on the verge of being traded, meaning Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey, and Greg Monroe have to lead this team. This coming year will not be much different than last year.

29.   Utah Jazz

Derrick Favors was decent last year, Gordon Hayward’s future is iffy, and Dante Exum isn’t a good enough rookie to be able to lead a team.

30.   Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Love is a Cav, and the rest of the team is pretty discombobulated. They will have the highest chance of winning the lottery this year.