NBA season back, not as we know it

LeBron James rises for a slam dunk for the Los Angeles Lakers against Milwaukee Bucks prior to...
LeBron James rises for a slam dunk for the Los Angeles Lakers against Milwaukee Bucks prior to the NBA's season suspension. Photo: Getty Images
As the NBA season restarts today in its Disney World Orlando bubble, Jeff Cheshire looks at how it may play out.

How it works

Twenty-two teams remain.

They carry their records from when the season was suspended four months ago.

Each will play eight games to determine playoff spots.

If the eighth seed finishes those games four wins ahead of the ninth, those spots are set.

If the ninth team is within four wins of the eighth, a play-in series will be contested.

Essentially, the ninth-placed team would have to win two games against the team above it to take the spot.

In the Eastern Conference one place remains up for grabs — there are nine teams remaining.

The Western Conference is slightly more complicated, as 13 teams are still in contention.

From there a traditional playoff format will be followed, eight teams from each conference playing seven-match series.

Questions

How will the break impact teams?

No-one has played a competitive game in four months. It is not easy to just step back on court and play quality team basketball. This year’s winner will be whichever team that can catch up to its pre-shutdown form the best.

Can LeBron make it four?

Over the last two weeks of the season LeBron James put in commanding performances against two of the league’s top teams and best players. At that point his Los Angeles Lakers side was hitting form and favourite to claim the title — and a fourth ring for the King. He will be rested now, which is key at 35 years old. But picking up that form four months later is easier said than done.

Will chemistry issues arise?

Imagine living with your workmates 24/7 for three months. That is essentially what these players are doing. In an environment where egos are prominent and dramas are regular, it could have a big effect. And if it does, will that spill over on to the court?

Prediction

The championship could go several ways, but it would be dangerous to bet against James and the Lakers. They will face a tough road to the finals and may have to go past cross-town rivals the Clippers in a final battle for LA in the conference finals. In the East Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are the big threat, although they will have to be good to beat the Lakers over a series.

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