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The NBA, the league which set off the chain reaction of pausing sports way back on March 11 as the coronavirus outbreak took hold of the world, began its postseason Monday. And if it’s anything like the return to play turned out, buckle up for a wild ride inside the Orlando bubble the next two months.

We saw some exciting basketball the past few weeks. High-scoring games. Dramatic conclusions. Outstanding individual performances. Even some defense on occasion. It made for some entertaining viewing and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue.

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Playoff basketball, like playoff hockey, has a heightened sense of urgency. If you’ve been watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far, you know what I’m talking about.

The chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy figures to be compelling. Maybe in the end, it’s the Lakers celebrating. Or the Bucks. But given what has already transpired in 2020, would it really shock you to see Toronto ultimately defend its title? Or maybe the Denver Nuggets find a way to play for the championship?

The storylines for the first round already have enough built-in drama. Damian Lillard trying to singlehandedly will Portland past LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers. Dallas and Luka Doncic scaring the hell out of the Clippers, who are hoping the 1-2 punch of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George finally gets them over the hump and kills the bad juju of Donald Sterling once and for all. The patchwork Nets trying to hang with the defending champ Raptors. James Harden and the Rockets trying to make a deep run. And for old-time NBA fans, the Celtics vs. the 76ers, which is always a fun get-together.

Then there’s one that sure to get overlooked — Denver vs. Utah. A Mountain Time Zone matchup in Florida. Nikola Jokic vs. Rudy Gobert for starters. The Jazz without Michael Conley Jr., at least for early on as he becomes a dad and departed the bubble.

Remember, it was Gobert’s testing positive for COVID-19 back on March 11 that started the pause in sports. He should be motivated to try and keep his team moving forward.

In all honesty, there’s not one first-round series that isn’t worth checking out. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Giannis Antetokounmpo? Aren’t you curious to see if the Magic can find a way to contain the Greek Freak? Ditto for the Lakers trying to limit Lillard. And will Indiana’s T.J. Warren and Miami’s Jimmy Butler kill each other over seven games?

My lone regret for the first round is the Phoenix Suns are not involved. Boy, were they fun to watch with Devin Booker going off every night and pushing the tempo at every opportunity.

The NBA got what it wanted — compelling matchups for the playoffs and most of its marquee players still involved in mid-August. But it also may have made a huge contribution to society.

The league teamed up with the scientists and medical folks at Yale University to fund and produce a coronavirus test that is speedy and accurate. For the NFL, which is getting ready to play its season without a bubble, for college football, which is contemplating the same, these rapid COVID-19 tests could prove essential in determining any positive cases and allow those sports to quickly act and quarantine those individuals, thus preventing the spread of the virus.

The NBA has had zero positive tests in the bubble for weeks now. Yes, part of it is the environment. But a big part is the testing and the quick turnaround and accuracy of the tests. It has allowed the NBA to conduct its business uninterrupted so far. There have been no outbreaks within teams like we’ve seen with baseball.

Thus, the NBA is secure in allowing families to infiltrate the bubble and attend the playoffs in person. They’ll have to go through the same protocols as the players but that should lower the anxiety level of the players and should bring a small sense of normalcy back to their lives. That might add to the incentive to stick around for a while.

Who will stick around the longest? Check back with me in October. But I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not going to be who everyone assumes it will. If we’ve learned anything about 2020, it’s expect the unexpected.

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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