The NBA could soon decide to resume after a long hiatus since March 11. Brooklyn Nets point man Spencer Dinwiddie recently leaked the potential date in which the season could resume: July 15.
Dinwiddie hinted there would be three weeks of training camp before the league resumes the rest of the 2019-20 regular season and rolls to the postseason — a sentiment mirrored by the proposed 70-game regular season the league has dolloped upon its constituents and the player’s association.
If the NBA indeed returns at some point this year, these are five storylines we can’t dare to miss as the campaign comes to a close:
1. The MVP race: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. LeBron James
After a two-month rainout, the race will appear to continue, as LeBron James’ effort to catch up to the MVP-leading Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won the award as a 24-year-old in 2019.
Not only is James trying to cement his Los Angeles Lakers as the team with the best record in the league, but also trying to ensnare his fifth MVP award — his first since 2013.
An earlier survey of NBA executives declared The Greek Freak as the clear-cut frontrunner of this race, garnering 60 first-place votes out of the 70 media personnel polled for the survey. Those who didn’t have a first-place vote for Antetokounmpo had him as a second-place vote-getter.
James Harden was an outsider in that conversation, finishing third and well-behind James and Antetokounmpo.
Many have wondered if James could do enough to catch up to Antetokounmpo before the season comes to a close, though the long hiatus could play a part in reshuffling the deck. Does James have enough time with only seven games remaining in the season?
The Los Angeles Lakers are three full games back of the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks (52-13). Should they obtain the top spot, King James might just be able to snatch the crown in an unprecedented return to action.
2. The Battle for Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Clippers have won two of their three encounters with the Lakers. If the season resumes under that 70-game proposed schedule, it’s only common sense that one of their six games remaining would be against their hallway rival Lakers.
This could be big, not only in terms of bragging rights but also a mental edge going into the postseason. The Clippers won their first two games without being at full power, dealing with a wave of injuries for the first half of the 2019-20 campaign.
A win for the Lakers would tie affairs at 2-2, but one more win for the Clippers would give them a strong 3-1 edge, plus the complete confidence that they’ve gotten the best of the Lakers — a belief they can use in the postseason if these teams match up against one another.
Some could argue the Clippers have been built to completely stifle the perimeter game with two gifted defenders in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. But Anthony Davis could become the X-factor in that equation. if he dominates inside, the Clippers have very little ways to stop him.
These would be the questions the Clippers would have to answer in the regular season if they are to prove they can beat the Lakers in a best-of-seven series.
3. NBA Playoffs implications
Most teams have at least five games remaining to get to a total of a proposed 70 games. Though most of the Eastern Conference is already set in place beside some jostling for seeding, the Western Conference tells a very different story.
The New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings are tied at 28-36, with the former having a narrow two-point win in their only matchup this season.
The Portland Trail Blazers (29-37) are 3.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. They only have four games remaining to meet the 70, putting them in quite a difficult scenario. Unless Rip City can win out the rest of the way and beat the Grizzlies in two games (they had two matchups left this season), it could be almost impossible for the Blazers to make the postseason unless those two matchups are scheduled and the Grizzlies lose four of their remaining five games.
Needless to say, the chances that the Grizzlies make the postseason are very, very high, barring a barreling decline in the last five games of the season.
Teams like the Utah Jazz, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Houston Rockets will be battling for playoff positioning in the middle of the table, but all three are virtually guaranteed a spot in the big dance. The same is true for the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers, and the road-struggling Philadelphia 76ers in the East, who will have to jostle for a top-four spot.
The Orlando Magic are virtually guaranteed to make the playoffs, having won their tiebreaks against the Brooklyn Nets (2-0) and the Washington Wizards (4-0). Washington can, however, beat out Brooklyn if it manages to go 6-0 in its remaining games while the Nets lose out in their remaining six.
4. Do the Magic/Heat have a home-court advantage?
Unlike the Western Conference, the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat could have a major home-court advantage if the rest of the season and postseason takes place at Disney World — one of the two bubble locations the NBA has proposed, along with the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas has no NBA team and would act as a neutral site for teams located in the West, but Disney World is in Orlando and would give Florida teams not only the advantage of close travel but also a familiar climate they could enjoy well into the postseason.
Should the eighth-seeded Magic play against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks or face the Toronto Raptors as the seventh seed, one would think the comfort factor would give Orlando players a slight advantage, even if they’re facing a much better team.
This could play a bigger impact for the Heat, who were among the top-two teams in the conference for the bulk of the regular season a 4 vs. 5 matchup could give Jimmy Butler’s new team a vital edge in the first round and a ton of momentum heading into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
5. The NBA Draft Lottery
The Golden State Warriors have all but locked down the worst record in the league, becoming the first team to be officially eliminated from playoff contention at 15-50.
The tank wars, however, will start with teams like the Detroit Pistons (20-46) and the Atlanta Hawks (20-47), jostling for one of the last three spots to stand an equal 14% chance at the No. 1 overall pick. The Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (19-47) currently trail the Warriors as two of the worst three teams in the league.
Teams like the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls could also be in the mix with 21 and 22 wins, respectively.
This is especially important this year, with a top-three heavy 2020 NBA Draft and not very much depth the rest of the way. To top that off, teams that haven’t done their homework early could have their share of issues scouting players or potentially bringing them in for interviews due to travel restrictions or social distancing rules.
Teams that can get into the race for players like Georgia standout Anthony Edwards, Memphis freshman James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball, or Obi Toppin will want to do the best they can to finish with one of the three worst records in the league, or potentially miss out on franchise-changing talent.