The NBA is gearing up for the league’s restart, which will begin July 30 at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
The league invited 22 teams, 16 of which are in the current playoff picture, for three scrimmages before an eight-game regular-season conclusion and full NBA Playoff format.
There may be no bigger winner in this entire endeavor than the NBA itself (pending a safe conclusion, of course), but we decided to break down three winners and three losers from the league’s return-to-play plan.
No. 9s: Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards
The No. 9 seeds were among the biggest benefactors because of the league’s new guidelines that state if the ninth-seed is within four games of the eighth-seed at the conclusion of the regular season, there will be a play-in round between those teams for the final playoff spot.
The Wizards of the Eastern Conference currently are 5.5 games back of the No. 8 seed Orlando Magic, meaning all they need to go is close the gap by 1.5 games for a play-in shot at the postseason.
The Trail Blazers are 3.5 games back of the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies. Throw in the added bonus that the Trail Blazers return to the floor healthier with the additions of center Jusuf Nurkic and power forward Zach Collins, and Portland could certainly earn a play-in.
Bubble teams: New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings
Both the Pelicans and Kings fit much of the same bill, benefitting from the NBA’s ninth-seeded guideline. Like the Trail Blazers, both the Pelicans and Kings are each just 3.5 games back in the Western Conference’s wild race for the eighth (and kinda ninth) seed.
The Pelicans, seemingly, have perhaps the best chance to challenge for that No. 9 seed and potential playoff berth as they hope to recreate their late-season magic with likely Rookie of the Year runner-up Zion Williamson leading the way.
The 76ers rejoin the NBA season after granting Al Horford, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid valuable rest. Simmons was dealing with a back injury throughout the regular season while Embiid had some extra time to recover from shoulder rehab.
The Sixers, currently the No. 6 seed in the East, could essentially jump as high as No. 4 with the Miami Heat just two games ahead of them, and the Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers possessing an identical 39-26 record. Another benefit for the 76ers is the fact the NBA bubble remains one centralized location, meaning they won’t have to play at another team’s home arena, where they were an abysmal 9-21 this year.
No. 1s: Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks
The Lakers had a sizable 5.5 game lead on the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference while the Bucks had an even larger 6.5 advantage in the East. It was almost a certainty both would earn the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences, and thus home court advantage.
Of course, with everything now held in Orlando, home court will not exist, and thus the 60-plus games have less meaning than usual.
Remember how we stated the No. 9 seeds had such an advantage, well the opposite should be said about the East’s No. 8 seed Magic. With the rule change, the Magic will now have to maintain a more than four-game lead over the Wizards, who are 5.5 games back with eight games to play.
Then again, the Magic are only 0.5 games back of the No. 7 seed Brooklyn Nets, who will be without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and a number of other players. Advancing up to the seventh-seed would be nice, as it would keep the Magic away from the top-seeded Bucks.
The Jazz will be interesting to watch during the NBA restart for a few reasons, but most of all because we can’t wait to see how Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert interact on the floor. As you may remember, Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19 back in mid-March. Not only did he essentially shut the entire sports world down, but his downright carelessness passed along the virus to Mitchell. The pair reportedly haven’t been on great terms ever since.
Additionally, and a valid on-court reason, is how the playoff seeding could shake out for the Jazz. Currently, the No. 4 Jazz would play the No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder, a much more favorable matchup than if Utah was to draw the Houston Rockets. The No. 6 Rockets are currently tied with the Thunder, each possessing a 40-24 record, and they’re only 1.0 game back of Utah. So, essentially, the Jazz could drop from the fourth seed to the sixth without much trouble, and if Utah starts to really struggle the No. 7 seed is only 2.5 games away, too.
More than anything, we’re just happy to have basketball back.