After several months of downtime brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is back in full swing. This is great news for basketball fans, as they now have something to look forward to during these hot summer months. But which teams have benefitted the most from the season’s restart? And which have shown worrying signs of discontent and/or disappointing play on the court? Let’s take a closer look at a few standouts and find out:
Of the 22 teams that were called upon to participate in the rest of the 2019-2020 season, the Orlando Magic is the only one that can reasonably claim a home-court advantage. That’s because every single game from this point up to and including the NBA finals will be held in Disney World near Orlando. That said, the Magic don’t have the benefit of a raucous home crowd to spur them on due to the games themselves taking place without spectators, but that hasn’t stopped them from accruing a 2-1 record so far. With the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference all but tied up (the Wizards currently sit 7.5 games out of the playoff race, so they will likely not qualify for a play-in tournament), it’s up to Aaron Gordon & company to test their mettle in the playoffs, presumably against reigning MVP Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks.
With both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving sidelined by injuries, and other notable players such as DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie sitting out the restart, the Brooklyn Nets were considered a decimated team going into the NBA bubble. Despite that, they’ve managed to win two out of their first three games, including a stunning upset of the Milwaukee Bucks. This means they’ll likely duke it out with the Orlando Magic for the last two playoff spots in the East, but will no doubt have a harder time getting past whichever team they encounter in the first round of the playoffs. That said, their plucky confidence may yet yield pleasant surprises for NBA fans.
San Antonio Spurs
This year it appeared all but certain that the incredible 22-season playoff streak that San Antonio boasted would finally come to an end. The Spurs featured an aging roster that relied heavily on LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, with porous defense and not enough perimeter shooting. But then the 4-month break happened, and the Spurs entered the NBA bubble feeling rejuvenated and ready to play. Moving forward without the injured Aldridge, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich put DeRozan at the 4 spots and let his younger players shine. Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, and Derrick White have all been putting up good numbers so far, with the Spurs winning two out of their first three matches in Orlando.
While not exactly floundering, the Mavericks haven’t come out the gate too strongly either. They lost a close contest with the Rockets, a game whose high scoring output surprised oddsmakers, who, as seen on sbo.net had predicted a decrease in offensive scores due to players being out of shape after such a long break. After that, came a surprise defeat to the Phoenix Suns, followed by a close victory against the lowly Sacramento Kings. While Luka Doncic continues to put up big numbers, his hesitancy to take control in the final minutes of a tight game could end up hurting his team in the playoffs.
Probably the most overmatched team in Orlando so far, the Sacramento Kings have lost every game they played in. Already unlikely to make the playoffs, these losses have made battling for a play-in spot in the Western Conference that much more difficult. While De’Aaron Fox has continued to be one of the most electrifying young point guards in the league, a sluggish shooting stretch from Bogdan Bogdanovic has meant that the Kings have trouble outscoring their opponents. With teams like the Lakers, the Rockets, and Zion’s Pelicans on the horizon, the Kings will need all the help they can get to make the most out of this season.
All things considered, having the NBA back is a blessing for basketball fans all over the world. While the restarted season has gone smoothly so far thanks to the NBA’s strict safety guidelines and the bubble-like conditions of its closed-off Disney World location, there’s a chance that a COVID-19 flare-up could still derail the season. So don’t take it for granted and be sure to enjoy these games to the fullest extent.