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The Return of the NBA and What it Means for the Lakers

Graphic by Dylan Hebert/DowtownSports Graphics

This country needed something to get excited about and on Wednesday Morning, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN delivered.

Talk about a “Woj Bomb” right?!

The regular season is planned to be completed with all participating teams playing an additional 8 games starting on July 31st.

8 games will allow all participating teams to reach that important 70 game number which was crucial for teams to collect television and ad revenue.

Another fun twist to this proposed plan is that after the “Regular Season” concludes, there will be a play-in game between the 8 and 9 seeds of each conference.

Not only that, but the play-in games will also have the 8th seeded teams facing double elimination, compared to the 9th seeded teams who will be eliminated from the play-in if they lose once.  This means the 9th seed needs to win 2 games in a row against the 8th seed in order to make the playoffs.

So now that we know how the NBA plans on finishing the season, what does it mean for the Los Angeles Lakers?

2019-2020 Regular Season:

For a team like the Lakers, that is compiled primarily of veteran players, playing regular-season games will be absolutely massive.

This will allow the older players to get back into game shape so they can be at peak condition come playoff time.

In addition, the Lakers own a 5.5 game lead at the top of the Western Conference.  If they win three out of the eight games, they will automatically clinch the one seed.

This means that the significance of the regular season games will be much less compared to those fighting to earn or improve their playoff position.

This is a huge advantage, as the Lakers won’t have to force their top players to play extended minutes.  Instead, they can focus on regaining their rhythm and team chemistry without overexerting themselves.

It remains to be seen who the Lakers will face in these eight games, but either way, I’m taking my sharpie and writing them into the number one seed.

Who are they Likely to Face in the First Round?

Here are the current conference standings of the 22 teams selected to continue the season.

*Courtesy of https://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2020_standings.html

* Playoff teams
Eastern Conference W L W/L% GB
Milwaukee Bucks* (1)  53 12 0.815
Toronto Raptors* (2)  46 18 0.719 6.5
Boston Celtics* (3)  43 21 0.672 9.5
Miami Heat (4)  41 24 0.631 12
Indiana Pacers (5)  39 26 0.6 14
Philadelphia 76ers (6)  39 26 0.6 14
Brooklyn Nets (7)  30 34 0.469 22.5
Orlando Magic (8)  30 35 0.462 23
Washington Wizards (9)  24 40 0.375 28.5
Western Conference W L W/L% GB
Los Angeles Lakers* (1)  49 14 0.778
Los Angeles Clippers (2)  44 20 0.688 5.5
Denver Nuggets (3)  43 22 0.662 7
Utah Jazz (4)  41 23 0.641 8.5
Oklahoma City Thunder (5)  40 24 0.625 9.5
Houston Rockets (6)  40 24 0.625 9.5
Dallas Mavericks (7)  40 27 0.597 11
Memphis Grizzlies (8)  32 33 0.492 18
Portland Trail Blazers (9)  29 37 0.439 21.5
New Orleans Pelicans (10)  28 36 0.438 21.5
Sacramento Kings (11)  28 36 0.438 21.5
San Antonio Spurs (12)  27 36 0.429 22
Phoenix Suns (13)  26 39 0.4 24

Looking at the full standing in the Western Conference, the Lakers’ 5.5 game lead looks basically insurmountable for any of the Western Conference teams.

What this means is the Lakers will have the honor of playing the winner of the NBA’s first play-in game.

Looking at the current standings, the realistic teams the Lakers could face off against include the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, or Spurs.

If I were to rank these teams on who I’d prefer the Lakers to play it would go as follows:

  1. Sacramento Kings
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Memphis Grizzlies
  4. Portland Trail Blazers
  5. New Orleans Pelicans

I think there’s a pretty noticeable gap when it comes to comparing Spurs and Kings versus the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, and Pelicans.

You could argue either the Kings or Spurs as the Laker’s top choice for the First Round. I went with the Kings as my top choice because they’re less experienced than the Spurs and I have much more faith in Popovich vs Luke Walton.

The Grizzlies have a ton of talent but they’re extremely young. The Lakers would have no problem taking advantage of the lack of experience in the playoffs.  Especially across a 7 game series (if it were to make it that long).

We’ve already seen what Damian Lillard can do in the Playoffs. Not only do they have Dame, but they have a very solid roster that is also preparing to welcome Josef Nurkic and Zach Collins back from injury. While defense would certainly be an issue, there’s no reason to believe the Blazers can’t score with the Lakers. Put the ball in Lillard’s hands with the game on the line and anything can happen.

Lastly, you have the Pelicans. As great as it would be to see these two teams match up in the playoffs following the blockbuster trade last summer. The return of Zion Williamson had the Pelicans performing as an elite offensive and defensive team. While the roster is unproven, especially in the playoffs, you could argue they have as much talent as any roster in the NBA. The Lakers would still be favorites however, in my opinion, this would be the toughest first-round matchup.

What’s Next?

Technically, this proposal has not passed yet.  The NBA still needs to conduct the voting to rectify this solution, which they will be doing tomorrow afternoon.

With all signs pointing to the deal being agreed upon, we now have an idea of how the NBA plans on returning.

This is obviously something to get excited about, however, there’s still a number of questions that remain.

There’s obviously still the need for a schedule but more importantly, there hasn’t been anything officially released on how they plan on testing players or their protocols should a player, coach, or league employee come down with COVID.

On top of that, will players be allowed to leave the “bubble?” What about their families? Are they allowed to travel and stay with the players?

There’s also the question of fans. Is there a possibility to have fans attend games? Could we see games with something like 25% capacity and fans six feet apart?

We’ll find answers to these and a lot more as the league irons out their plans. For now, let’s celebrate the fact that the Lakers and their quest for their 17th championship are on the horizon.

 

 

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