Sports Writer and Analyst. Occasionally, I will write about other topics.
The NBA pulled a rabbit out of a hat by orchestrating the 2020 playoffs inside the Orlando bubble.
I watched all of game 1 of the 2020 NBA finals. The Miami Heat played well, however, the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers are a special basketball team.
The level of competition in the NBA currently is at an all-time high and the 2020 playoffs in the “bubble" have been exciting, to say the least. I have been watching the NBA since 1998 and I have seen many turns within the NBA. The NBA is the closest it has ever been to being a "30 team" league. Nearly every team in a position to make at least the eighth seed in their respective conference. And yet the NBA still has a uniquely high number of teams that are competitive enough to win a conference final.
The NBA's current style of play requires athletes to have more skill and it rewards players that are accurate shooters of the basketball. More fouls are not being called in the NBA. For the 2019-20 season, the average team had 20.84 fouls called. During the 2003-04 season, the averaged was 21.59. That would suggest that NBA players are getting even fewer calls in today's game. Facts are facts even in basketball.
To be frank, it is amazing that the NBA was able to orchestrate the playoffs in the middle of the pandemic. From a logistical standpoint, it can easily be seen as one of the NBA”s greatest feats. And the games have given many fans something to look forward to as well. As a result, many should be grateful to the NBA for all it has done to make sure that the 2020 playoff games were even played. True fans of the NBA appreciate the effort the NBA has gone to in order to ensure that the 2020 playoff games were played.
It's obvious from the play we are seeing from players that players care about winning inside of the "bubble." It is also worth noting that nearly every team wanted to participate in the "bubble." Purely from an economic side, many players have pretty stringent contracts and cannot afford to miss a season playing in the playoffs. The same can be said for many teams that have put a lot of effort to build their rosters. They cannot afford to set out for a whole season. And financially there is some debate as to whether or not the NBA could handle the potential revenue shortfalls of missing an NBA playoff.
Overcoming adversity is the cornerstone of teams winning a championship and it tests team chemistry. The teams with the most chemistry lasted the longest in the bubble. And basketball is a team sport. Therefore, chemistry is a key ingredient for success in basketball. The rules of basketball don’t change because players are playing in the “bubble.”
The “bubble” presents a unique challenge in sports. Fans and analysts expect professional athletes to meet the challenge. And largely this has been the case for the 2020 playoffs. Athletes should never make excuses when it comes to winning championships.
The level of play inside the Orlando Bubble has been on-par with past NBA playoffs. If anything, it has added an extra element of diversity that makes the 2020 playoffs special. Every year, there are injuries and unexpected turns in the playoffs. Last season, Klay Thompson was injured in the NBA finals. The Warriors losing, when injured, surprised nearly every analyst. Most, if not all analysts, thought the Warriors could beat the Toronto Raptors even with Kevin Durant sidelined.
Granted the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks did not make it out of the second round. However, there is a countless number of first seeds in the NBA have not always performed well in the playoffs. Good regular season teams have underperformed during the regular season. The 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs led by Kawhi Leonard also lost in the second round after going 67-15 in the regular season.
Similarly, the 2014-15 Portland Trail Blazers after going 51-31 during the regular season lost in five games in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies would go on to force a 6 game series in the second round with the Warriors. In the 2015 NBA finals, Lebron had to play as the lone superstar on the Cleveland Cavaliers. And he still pushed the series to 6 games.
Remember, the Clippers pushed the 2019 playoff Warriors to a 6 game series in the first round. Talk about surprising.
In the 2017 and 2018 playoffs, the Bucks lost in the first round to the Raptors and Boston Celtics. The Bucks lost four straight games to the Raptors in the 2019 playoffs. For the past four playoffs, the Bucks and Giannis have lost in similar fashion in the playoffs. When Giannis averages less than 26.0 PPG in the playoffs, the Bucks have not won a playoff series in the past four years. Similarly, until Giannis started averaging over 27.0 PPG for the regular season, the Bucks were at best a 6th seed. And they have had Giannis Anteokounmp and Khris Middleton on their roster for the past four seasons. Using multiple good wing defenders to stop Giannis from driving to the paint is a strategy that teams have been using for years.
There have playoffs performed during shortened seasons as well. There were only 50 games played in the 1998-99 regular season. Nobody discounted the 1998-99 Spurs when they won the NBA championship. I am sure that their opponents played as hard as they could to win.
Outside of “bubble” play, most NBA franchises are experiencing growth and rising to new levels. However, there are many teams dealing with injuries and that did not meet their expectations for the 2019-20 season.
Next season, there will be at least 8 teams that are good enough to win a conference finals: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Brooklynn Nets, Bucks, Celtics, and Miami Heat. There are at least another five teams that are good enough to sneak into a conference finals.
Last season, there were 6 wins that separated teams in the Eastern Conference that did not make the playoffs. And in the Western Conference, there were only five wins that separated the 8th seed and 13th seed. And the 14th seed Timberwolves only had D’Angelo Russell for 12 games and they will have the number one pick in the 2020 NBA draft. And the 15th seed was the Golden State Warriors. The NBA has never been so competitive.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Michael Mannen