The NBA aspires to return sometime in June, potentially playing games without fans if that’s what’s called for. That feels so far away.
Over the next few months, we’re all going to have to make the best of it. We’ll have to be big boys and girls in waiting for the joy of watching our sports to fill our hearts. In the interim, we’ll have more pressing priorities to worry about.
The chaos that unfolded on before the scheduled tip-off of Jazz-Thunder on March 11 was the beginning of everything being flipped upside down in our world. Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus we feared would uproot normalcy. NBA commissioner Adam Silver followed suit by immediately suspending the season.
It triggered a fall of dominoes with the NCAA canceling March madness, other leagues and sports putting their seasons on hold. But it was unquestionably the right decision.
Canceling the NCAA Tournament was also correct, which is what I can take solace in, even though all our bottom lines have been affected. For over two decades, I’ve made my living writing on sports, analyzing games and spinning winners into profits. I was CBS SportsLine’s original bracketologist and then a national NBA writer. It allowed me a window I use to thrive in the sports gambling world. This is my favorite time of the year, when I genuinely feel most alive.
I’ll confide that this has all truly depressed me. It was set to be a lucrative couple of months and my family will now suffer for it financially. Emotionally, we’ll be cool -- fingers crossed. Same goes for you. The end game is that lives were saved.
I didn’t mention dabbling in science when telling you how I made a living for a reason. That’s not my bag. Experts warning that a global pandemic is always going to generate substantial loss and preaching that our behavior would ultimately dictate how great the number of people infected and affected would be was enough for me. We’ve seen what has transpired overseas. Now it’s here.
Leagues closing up shop when they did ensured that whatever damage is coming won’t be as bad as it might have been. Fans, media and game day staff who earn checks providing a great user experience in arenas around the world would’ve attended games played by athletes of all ages.
Could you imagine the thought of a veteran coach passing away because he contracted COVID-19 while working? Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Gobert and Pistons forward Christian Wood all tested positive. They’re running around with older referees and interacting with all types behind the scenes. A kid fell ill because he was lucky enough to score an autograph.
There’s no debate to be had over whether the games should’ve stopped. We just have to hope as many people as possible can smile over braving the trying times ahead when we giddily welcome back contests. Have faith, it’s going to happen. Playing 82 games won’t. That’s logistically impossible.
It remains to be seen if the NBA can maintain the integrity of the 16-team playoff system when the balls are bouncing again. If it’s mid-June, now considered the best-case scenario, I’d personally be in favor of thinking outside the box and setting up a three-game regular-season schedule to help players get loose that would match teams with the three closest to them in terms of proximity.
The 16 playoff teams would all be set. The Grizzlies, the West’s No. 8 seed, currently hold a 3.5-game edge on the Pelicans and Blazers. Those hoping to see more of Zion Williamson figure to be experts in making due with what we’ve got by the time that first game tips.
The California teams would play one another. The Texas triangle could be lumped with New Orleans or Memphis. Denver, Utah, Portland and Minnesota would form another clump. Oklahoma City and would be mixed in with midwestern teams.
Do the same with the East and get creative in getting around the face there are 30 teams to work with and not 32 by having the Thunder play the Jazz, 76ers square off against the Pacers and Orlando meet Brooklyn at neutral sites. Those playoff teams will be the only ones tied or separated by a half-game when play resumes. That would ensure a little seeding drama and make the best of it.
Let’s hope the coronavirus will be eradicated effectively enough for playoff games to be played in front of fans by July. I can’t wait to see those first point spreads. Hopefully, players can stay healthy and in shape, which should lead to better basketball than you may expect given that everyone should have fresh legs.
Speaking of which, the 76ers are expected to have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons back and ready. The surprising Raptors should be fresh. The Nets could be a wild x-factor if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving can get healthy. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo will be working on his rhythm after struggling to find it upon his return. The Magic were physically falling apart and now have months to heal up. The depth in the Eastern Conference will probably be sufficiently stronger than we expected.
In the West, Houston’s chances should increase since it won’t be worn down from employing its “microball” approach for another month. Instead, the season came to a halt, buying the Rockets time.
It’s hard to look on the bright side right now, yet it beats feeding into bleaker alternatives. Take care of you and yours. With diligence and some luck, there will be better days and great basketball ahead to help the back half of 2020 make up for a devastatingly unfortunate first few months.