Pay attention to all the offseason moves

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Barely two months ago the most challenging season in NBA history ended when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat to win the 2019-20 NBA championship in Orlando.

The latter stages of last season were played with great uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus that suspended play last March, a hiatus that would last 4 1/2 months.

Uncertainty continues to exist as the new season begins next week with a pair of games on Tuesday. Amid a horrific surge in new cases, the approval and distribution of a vaccine has created hope that the new season, modified in several ways, will unfold and play out as planned.

The new season will feature a 72-game regular season schedule and a play-in tournament to determine the final involving seeds seven through ten in each Conference prior to the start of the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin May 22 and run through July 22.

The schedule is being revealed in two stages but the structure has been set with each team playing three games against each of the other 14 teams within its conference and two games each vs. the 15 teams in the other conference. I’m surprised the NBA did not devote more, if not all, games to intra-conference play to not just cut travel costs but also reduce the need to adjust the schedule for what are likely to be virus-related travel protocols that could vary during the season. Travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada have Toronto beginning the season based in Tampa, Florida.

The shortened offseason should have significant impact on early-season play which could be sloppy due to a myriad of factors. Traditional offseason conditioning programs did not take place due to restrictions related to the pandemic. The NBA Draft was held Nov. 18, just under a month before the start of the season. There were no summer rookie tournaments, a fairly brief though intensive free agency period and a shortened preseason schedule that left precious little time for the many new faces in new places to coalesce into a smoothly functioning unit. That will have to develop as the new season unfolds.

In addition to player moves, nine of the 30 franchises have new coaches to start the season including a few contenders. Tyronn Lue replaced Doc Rivers as the Clippers’ coach with Rivers taking over in Philadelphia. Veteran coaches also take over in New York (Tom Thibodeau) and Chicago (Billy Donovan) as both the Knicks and Bulls continue their rebuilding processes.

Major player movement may not be complete as James Harden continues to lobby for a trade from Houston. The Rockets could be a team in major decline this season after trading Russell Westbrook to Washington for the oft-injured John Wall. Their Season Wins Total of 34.5 has them pegged as a below .500 team likely to miss the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

Two intriguing teams to watch will be Atlanta in the East and Phoenix in the West. Phoenix was a perfect 8-0 both SU and ATS in the Orlando bubble and just missed out on qualifying for the eight/nine play-in. Let’s keep an eye on the Suns’ early season play for signs of a momentum carryover that might portend a playoffs berth.

Phoenix’s Season Win Totals has them projected in seventh. But be careful in backing the Suns early as that summer performance may have them a bit overvalued in the first week or two.

Atlanta has a fine mixture of young talent such as Trae Young combined with veteran experience (Danillo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo) and if all gels well the Hawks could be a surprise in the Southeast Division in which only Miami finished above .500 last season.

Tuesday

Warriors + 5.5 at Nets: Kevin Durant makes his long-awaited debut for the Nets, now ostensibly coached by Steve Nash. Teaming with fellow veteran Kyrie Irving and an underrated Spencer Dinwiddie the Nets should be an entertaining team with plenty of scoring punch.

Golden State has lost Klay Thompson for a second straight season but Steph Curry returns after missing all but five games last season. With mainstay Draymond Green, rookie James Wiseman and creative coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors should bounce back and be a second-tier playoff team.

Although no total has yet been posted this should be a higher than expected scoring game, tipping of the season with several stars and a national audience to entertain. OVER

Clippers +2 at Lakers: LeBron James and Anthony Davis vs. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, season two. They’ve just played a pair of preseason games with James and Davis sitting out but both Davis and George each playing an identical 14 and 17 minutes.

The teams are not scheduled to meet again until at least March so this could be viewed as an early-season statement game between two top contenders. The defending champion Lakers are likely to draw the money in this season opener which suggests playing them early in the betting cycle, perhaps before or during the football weekend when sporting attention is elsewhere. LAKERS

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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