When the NBA decided to suspend its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the first questions was if the league would try to finish the season. From the very beginning, league commissioner Adam Silver and the players’ association were all-in on attempting to complete the 2019-20 campaign.
It appears that the league will ultimately finish the season as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease around the country. The other big question facing the NBA was how the current season would be completed. There have been a number of ideas circulating including a World Cup-style pool play tournament.
There is one method that would be the easiest and simplest. Stick to tradition.
Because of the coronavirus, the league has always thought a single location would be best for a return to play. The NBA is working with The Walt Disney World resort to become the host of the NBA’s games. Before teams would head there, they would first hold individual workouts at their own practice facilities and then have a two- to three-week training camp.
Then, the 30 teams would head to Orlando where they would play a number of regular-season games. The number could be five or six or closer to ten. Most teams were right around 65 games played and the league would like get teams to 70 (there is a television revenue reason for 70 games).
After the regular season games are complete, the playoffs would begin just like they do any other season. The top eight teams in each conference advance and are seeded No. 1 through No. 8. All playoff series would be best-of-seven, something that Silver has been adamant about from the very beginning.
Following a traditional format is easy for fans to understand. It also rewards teams for their regular season play. The other talked about options are very creative and might seem more interesting, but they go against NBA history.
Another plus is the elimination of the whole “asterisk” conversation. A play-in tournament or pool play would leave 2019-20 marked with an asterisk as it didn’t follow the normal postseason protocol. The traditional format would also be the most likely to receive a favorable vote.
The biggest con against the traditional format is the lack of incentive for any team to play those final regular-season games. Bad teams have no realistic shot at advancing to the postseason. Good teams already in playoff position have no incentive either. They are already in the playoffs.
That brings up the issue of health risks. Athletes that have not played in over two months would return to play in five or six games. Is that really worth it? Players like Portland’s Damian Lillard have already said he won’t play unless it’s meaningful. Portland is 3.5 games out of eighth place in the West.
Effect on Bettors
From a betting standpoint, the traditional format might be the best option also. There would be a number of regular-season games to bet on prior to the playoffs. That would be a bonus. The current playoff format also benefits the teams that performed well during the regular season.
The favorites to win this year’s NBA title are the Lakers (+195), the Bucks (+225), and the Clippers (+250). Milwaukee would be the East’s top seed and would face Orlando, currently 30-35 in the first round. The Lakers are the top seed in the West and would get Memphis (32-33). The Clippers would be the No. 2 seed out West and would take on Dallas in Round 1.
Ultimately, the only team that could get in the way of a Lakers-Clippers Western Conference final is Houston. The Rockets are given +1750 odds to win an NBA title. As the No. 6 seed, Houston would face Denver in Round 1. The Rockets would have to figure out how to steal a game in Denver. The two teams played four times this season and split 2-2. The home team won all four games.
If it’s not a wager on Houston, the safe bets are the Lakers and Clippers. LeBron James is having an MVP-caliber year and, surprisingly, the Lakers are one of the best defensive teams in the league. That, plus having Anthony Davis up front, gives the Lakers the edge.
In the East, the Bucks, with the league’s best record (53-12) are the clear favorite. Third-seeded Boston is given +950 odds to win making No. 2 seed Toronto (+2000) a longshot. It’s a longshot bet worth taking.
The Raptors have the NBA’s best defense and, despite losing Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers, the offense is still strong. That is due primarily to the emergence of Pascal Siakam (23.6 ppg) and guard Fred VanVleet (17.6 ppg). It also helps that Toronto has the best bench in all of basketball.
With Marc Gasol likely completely healed after an injury, the Raptors can bring both Norman Powell (16.4 ppg) and Serge Ibaka (16.0 ppg) off the bench. Depending upon any night’s starting lineup, the Raptors bench provides upwards of 50 points, 30 rebounds, and 11 assists per game.
With the Bucks favored to win the East last year, Toronto pulled the upset. They don’t have Leonard, but they do have the bulk of the rest of the roster which makes a small wager on the Raptors at +2000 worth the risk.