There is still a good chance that the 2019-20 NBA season isn’t officially over.
Since the league is technically on a 30-day hiatus, there is no reason to believe that the season won’t finish up through the late stages of the summer. While that might cause complications for whatever is left of the shortened offseason (and could even have an impact on future seasons), it’s the best-case scenario. Canceling the remainder of the year is a doomsday situation and the last one the NBA wants to jump to.
If everyone would stop going outside and overcrowding restaurants and bars, we might be able to control the coronavirus enough to bring the season back earlier than expected, but that’s an entirely different article…
There have been rumors swirling that if/when the NBA does come back, they run teams through roughly eight “tune-up” games to close the regular season. Those games would be more like exhibitions than anything, allowing players and coaches to get back into the end-of-season groove they were once in. After each team has a few games under their belt, the playoffs will startup. However, who knows if the postseason would be the traditional seven-game series for every playoff round or if they trim some of the first-round series to three- or five-game series. All of those types of questions won’t be answered for a while. It could very well be at the end of the current 30-day hiatus. We’ll have to wait around for those types of announcements.
But what if the NBA season ended TODAY? What would the playoffs look like? Which former Kentucky stars would headline the most up-in-the-air playoffs in over a decade? Let’s dive in.
IF the NBA does decide to spark the season back up in, let’s say July or August, and decides to schedule teams with a couple of weeks of regular-season games before the playoffs, the actual standings likely won’t see any noticeable movement.
Before the season was suspended, most franchises still had anywhere from 15-18 games left on their schedule. If that number is cut down to somewhere in the six/eight range, it makes life even more difficult for the teams fighting for a final playoff spot.
For example, the Memphis Grizzlies are currently 32-33 and hold onto the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Sitting not too far below them are the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and the Sacramento Kings, who are all 3.5 games behind Memphis for the final spot. The San Antonio Spurs are just 4.0 games back of the Grizz while the Phoenix Suns are 6.0 games back.
If the season ends with these standings, then Memphis is in and they will take on LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Considering the Lakers are 5.5 games ahead of the L.A. Clippers for the West’s top-seed, they will almost assuredly hold onto the position no matter how many games are played once the season returns.
There are also several teams that will be vying for favorable matchups within the playoff spots. The Denver Nuggets (43-22), Utah Jazz (41-23), Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24), Houston Rockets (40-24), and Dallas Mavericks (40-27) are all within four games of each other in the Western Conference standings. I imagine Denver and Houston would try to avoid each other until the second round. If the season were to end today, here’s what the playoffs in the West would look like:
(1) Lakers (Davis, Rondo) vs. (8) Grizzlies
(2) Clippers (Patterson) vs. (7) Mavericks (Cauley-Stein, Kidd-Gilchrist)
(3) Nuggets (Murray) vs. (6) Rockets
(4) Jazz vs. (5) Thunder (Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander, Noel)
Sliding over to the Eastern Conference, things aren’t nearly as dramatic. The Milwaukee Bucks will own the top-seed in the East regardless of what happens and there’s a good shot they hold home-court advantage all the way to the NBA Finals (if they can make it that far). The Washington Wizards (24-40) are 5.5 games behind the Orlando Magic (30-35) for the East’s final playoff seed and they likely won’t be able to make up the distance in any future scenario once the season resumes. Even if John Wall does make a surprise return (something pointed out as a possibility by Keith Cork over at WizofAwes) and there are eight or so games left on the schedule, the Wizards still won’t be able to sneak into the playoffs.
The Magic and Brooklyn Nets (30-34) will fight for the seven-seed and the right to NOT play the Bucks in round one, as only a half-game separates those two franchises. The Miami Heat (41-24), Indiana Pacers (39-26), and the Philadelphia 76ers (39-26) will fight for the four-, five-, and six-seeds; only two games separate those three organizations. The Toronto Raptors (46-18) and Boston Celtics (43-21) have the two- and three-seeds all but sewn up.
If the season ended today, here’s what the Eastern Conference playoffs would look like:
(1) Bucks (Bledsoe) vs. (8) Magic
(2) Raptors vs. (7) Nets
(3) Celtics (Kanter) vs. (6) 76ers
(4) Heat (Abebayo, Herro) vs. (5) Pacers
If this is how everything turns out, we’ll have 13 former Kentucky players in the playoffs spread across eight of the 16 possible teams. Four of those teams feature at least two former ‘Cats while the Thunder roster three one-time Kentucky hoopers.
That Celtics-76ers matchup in the first round would be the one to watch, but the Nuggets-Rockets or Clippers-Mavericks out West might be the two most interesting matchups. I also can’t wait to see what a sophomore Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can do in his second NBA playoff run, this time as a member of OKC. The Thunder would have been (and still could be) the most dangerous team heading into the postseason, in my opinion.
While we likely won’t get BBNBA superstars such as Devin Booker or Karl-Anthony Towns in this season’s version of the playoffs, they’ll have legitimate shots to make a run next year (or whenever the 2020-21 season begins).
I could care less if the NBA decides to jump straight into the playoffs. It definitely makes more sense to try and give them a few games to prepare, but that all depends on the status of the coronavirus. Obviously, the earlier the season returns the better. Either way, these 16 teams listed above have a very good chance to make the playoffs and the teams on the outside looking in don’t have much of a shot. The final standings and matchups might change a bit, but we have our 16 playoff-hopeful teams and our 13 Kentucky players.
Once that happens, we can get back into the fun storylines: Will Eric Bledsoe choke in the playoffs again? Are the Miami Heat a legitimate threat to make a Finals run? Will Davis and LeBron assume their destiny and win a championship?
It’s only day five of no sports…