NBA
July 31, 2020
BY Jason Michael Sanin

Bold Predictions for the NBA Restart

The scrimmage games are over, there aren’t any positive tests in the bubble, and it is finally time for NBA basketball once again. As the seeding games get going, and the playoffs are soon to follow, it's finally safe to start predicting what will happen during the rest of the season.

But instead of simply just picking an NBA champion, we've looked deep into our mysterious crystal ball to tell the future so we can make some extremely bold predictions about the rest of the season and everything surrounding the strangest conclusion to an NBA season in history.

1. There Will Be a Fight

What do you get when you put a large number of the best athletes in one place, tell them that they can’t leave or do many of the things that they like to do, and still have them go to work? You get a lot of pent up frustration and the potential for things to boil over into the workplace — especially when that work environment is a competitive sports league. And in the NBA, that can often lead to a kerfuffle on the court, which is something that is going to happen at some point in the bubble.

For a prediction on when this will happen, I would lean toward the end of the seeding games, where playoff positioning will more or less be set and teams with nothing to play for might be more willing to get into an altercation. And while basketball fights usually aren't very entertaining, as swinging such long arms rarely leads to any impressive connections from the people responsible, there is definitely a chance that some players throw hands on the floor during the remainder of this campaign.

2. The Bubble Will Be Broken

There have already been some notable stories of NBA players leaving the Orlando bubble, mostly for food-related reasons. Kings center Richaun Holmes stupidly stepped outside of the bubble to pick up a food delivery, which resulted in him having to self-quarantine. And Clippers sixth man Lou Williams was forced to sit out for the beginning of his team’s seeding games after going to an Atlanta gentlemen’s club for their chicken wings. 

It's only a matter of time before someone implodes their team’s playoff chances by leaving the bubble.

It's hard to blame NBA players for violating the league’s bubble protocol. They are young, flush with cash and are used to being able to enjoy limitless life experiences that people their age would do anything to enjoy. And after the seeding games are complete, those players will have already spent weeks in the bubble. It won’t be good for their team, but at least one player is going to try and sneak out at some point and could miss some important games as a result.

3. The Rockets Will Fail to Lift Off

On the court, a lot of attention has been paid to the strategy that the Houston Rockets have attempted to put into place this season. They traded away their big men, opting to put the undersized PJ Tucker at center on a team that plans to win by shooting as many three-point shots as possible. 

That strategy isn’t going to work, and Mike D’Antoni’s attempts to push the game of basketball to the extreme will once again fall short.

The problem for the Rockets will be when they play teams that can control the glass. A team like the Utah Jazz, with true centers, could limit their ability to get three-point looks on offensive rebounds and hinder the Rockets’ ability to earn points when defenses are not yet set.

And while Houston puts up a ton of points on offense, the Rockets’ defense is nowhere near good enough to get away with being at a rebounding disadvantage.

4. The Raptors Will Return to the Eastern Conference Finals 

Perhaps the most overlooked team heading into the NBA’s restart is the Toronto Raptors. They won the title last year, but the loss of Kawhi Leonard in the ensuing offseason made most NBA analysts turn a blind eye to Toronto. 

But, in a wide-open Eastern Conference, the Raptors are going to be good enough to get to the Eastern Conference Finals for a second straight time.

Toronto having to use players like Fred VanVleet more this year has been a blessing in disguise, as VanVleet is a player who has won at every level he’s played at in his career.

And with underrated coach Nick Nurse and star-in-the-making Pascal Siakam transforming into a superstar and the underrated Nick Nurse, The Raptors look like a scary team even if they aren’t as good as they were last season.

The Celtics and Sixers are flawed, which makes the Raptors' path to back-to-back NBA Finals an easier road. 

5. The Sixers Will Stall in the Bubble

Speaking of the Sixers, they are just not going to live up to the hype that surrounded them in the years following Sam Hinkie’s “Process” era. Joel Embiid is too aloof to be an all-time great player in this era. Ben Simmons still cannot shoot jump shots in competitive games. And the team is hoping that starting Shake Milton at point guard is going to give them the kick start they need to contend for a title. Sorry to spoil the ending, but that plan will not work.

The Sixers had their best chance to win a title last year when Jimmy Butler was leading their young core in the East. But even then, they were unable to get through the Raptors and fell short in the second round of the playoffs after beating a soft Nets squad in the first round. The Sixers have yet to notch one impressive series win in the playoffs with their current nucleus, and they are not about to start now.

6. The Bubble Will Be Back for 2020-21

Talks about next season have already begun, in terms of how the league is going to function in our current COVID-19 crisis. And one plan that has already been discussed is the continuation of some sort of bubble for the 2020-21 season. It would be difficult to imagine the league reverting to a non-bubble plan before COVID-19 is under control in America.

With all 30 teams set to be involved in play next season — assuming the league doesn’t justifiably contract the Knicks — the NBA might need to move to a multi-bubble plan to accommodate more teams. But, as Major League Baseball has shown, a lack of a distinct plan would only put the players and staffs in jeopardy of spreading the virus throughout locker rooms around the country. With the NBA being one of the more forward-thinking American sports leagues, they will not take that chance until things have calmed down.

7. The Greek Freak's Second MVP Won't Matter

Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to win his second straight NBA MVP award this year, barring a miracle vote in favor of LeBron James. Last year, the Greek Freak’s first MVP was rendered meaningless as the Bucks failed to get to the NBA Finals after being tripped up in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Raptors. 

The Greek Freak winning the MVP will again be meaningless, as he and the Bucks will fail to win the title in Orlando.

Milwaukee is the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they are lacking the depth that the other top contenders in the league currently have. Both the Lakers and Clippers have more firepower off the bench than Milwaukee, even if Antetokounmpo is the best player in the world right now.

That will be the difference this season, as the Bucks will fall short of the title again this season, and Giannis will be forced to think about a possible future outside of Milwaukee if he wants to win a title.

8. The Jazz Will Be The Surprise Squad

There is always a surprise team in the NBA playoffs that disrupts the natural order of things and makes a deeper run than they were expected to make. Last year, that team was the Portland Trail Blazers, who made the Western Conference Finals after upsetting the Denver Nuggets. This season, that team is going to be the Jazz, as the coronavirus pandemic has taken them on a strange journey that usually precedes a deep run in postseason play.

After Rudy Gobert got the whole league shut down by contracting the virus and spreading it to Donovan Mitchell, the two did not get along for a period of time. But they have patched things up and have looked solid as a duo on the court in the scrimmages.

With a solid starting lineup and some quality complementary pieces, the Jazz are going to be a tough out and could give the Lakers or Clippers a hard time in the second round of the playoffs.

9. The seeding games will be anticlimactic

The inclusion of seeding games in the NBA restart was done to make sure that teams who were still in playoff contention had a chance to play for their right to be in the postseason. However, these games are going to be largely anticlimactic, as the battle for the eighth seed in each conference will not live up to the hype. The real drama will instead be in the seeding toward the middle of each conference’s standings.

The Western Conference has the more competitive race for the eighth seed, with stars like Ja Morant, Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson being involved. But the Grizzlies should be able to claim the eighth spot without too much trouble and should progress to an inevitable beating in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of one of the two Los Angeles juggernauts.

10. This title will feel more valuable than ever

There has been a question of how legitimate this year’s NBA championship will feel when we look back at it in the future, because of the use of neutral sites and the fact that the NBA playoffs will be played as the rest of the country collapses around it. But what if we're looking at it all wrong?  

What if we'll all look back at the champion this season as even more worthy than the champions in most seasons?

Whichever team is going to win the NBA Finals this year is going to do so having been made to stay in an isolated environment for months at a time, resisting the temptation to go to Disney World or eat wings at a gentlemen’s club in the process. They will have won despite having no home-court advantage while having to worry about contracting a disease that could shorten their careers if severe enough. History will look back on this year’s champion very favorably, which is one of the many reasons we can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

Photo: Getty Images