The 2019-20 NBA season was moving right along until the COVID-19 crisis hit the United States. When Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus, league commissioner Adam Silver suspended the season. That was March 11, almost two months ago.
The NBA is looking to resume the season and teams may be permitted to start some form of practice at their facilities as early as May 8. With no games on the immediate horizon, which teams will benefit the most as a result of the long layoff?
LeBron & The Lakers
The favorite to win the Western Conference and this year’s NBA Finals is the Los Angeles Lakers. Through 63 games, the Lakers had the best record in the West at 49-14 and a 5.5-game lead over their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Lakers were moving and grooving through the season led by Anthony Davis (26.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and LeBron James (25.7 ppg, 10.6 apg, 7.9 rpg). The concern for the Lakers in winning it all is simply age. James is 35 and is averaging 35 minutes per game. He is very well-conditioned, but it is still a lot of work for a player his age.
Davis (27) is much younger, but he logs over 34 minutes per game and then there is the rest of the roster to think about. The Lakers are old by NBA standards. Dwight Howard plays 19 minutes a game at age 34. Rajon Rondo is 33 and plays almost 21 minutes per game.
JaVale McGee and Danny Green are both 32. Green (61) and McGee (61) are the only Lakers to start more games than James (60) this season. Reserve Markief Morris, obtained at the trade deadline plays 15 minutes a game and is 30 years old.
A +195 favorite to win it all this year, the Lakers were in desperate need of a break. The coronavirus provided it.
The one team that could challenge the Lakers in the West is the rival Clippers. The two teams had played three times this season before the suspension of play. The Clippers had won two of the three games.
Any thoughts of the Clippers winning an NBA title begin with star Kawhi Leonard. He just happens to be the face of “load management” in the league. Essentially, load management has Leonard sit one game anytime the Clippers play on consecutive nights.
The time off the floor apparently has paid off for Leonard. Last year, he helped lead Toronto to the franchise’s first NBA title. Leonard was enjoying another stellar season in L.A. in 2019-20. He was averaging 26.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists a game for the Clippers.
While Leonard is only 28, any time off is beneficial. It’s good for the rest of the Clippers too. Teammates Paul George (30), Marcus Morris (30), Patrick Beverley (31), and Lou Williams (33) are all aged 30 or older.
George has battled some injuries this season and has played in only 42 games. He averages 21.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and is considered one of the better defenders in the league.
The time off will surely benefit the Clippers, who sit at +250 to win the NBA championship. A number of experts picked the Lakers’ rivals to win it all prior to the season.
The 76ers had some serious issues just before the NBA season was suspended. At the top of the list is the three players that tested positive for the coronavirus. Those three will need time to recover. The same is true for Philadelphia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Simmons had been out of the Sixers lineup since February 22 with a back problem. The word was that Simmons was not coming back anytime soon. The break should have allowed him to recover, which is a big plus for Philadelphia. Simmons was averaging 16.7 points, 8.2 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Embiid is another player that abides by the load management doctrine. Embiid, who leads Philadelphia in scoring (23.4 ppg) and rebounding (11.8 rpg), has missed 21 games this season. The break will help the big man rest up for a playoff run.
Philadelphia is a longshot bet to win an NBA title at +2800, but they are streaky. They have had six different winning streaks of at least four games this season.
The Grizzlies won’t be blue if commissioner Silver decides to end the regular season and just restart the season with the playoffs. Memphis is 32-33 overall and currently owns the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They are a huge longshot at +20000 to win an NBA title, but they would benefit tremendously by making the postseason.
The Grizzlies hold a 2.5-game lead over New Orleans, Portland, and Sacramento. All three of those teams are capable of overtaking Memphis and capturing that final playoff spot. The longer the season is suspended, the more it likely benefits the Grizzlies.
Memphis missed the postseason in each of the past two seasons. Qualifying and getting the playoff experience would be beneficial for players like rookie Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Jarren Jackson Jr.
The trio forms the core of the Grizzlies of the future. Morant leads the team in scoring and assists averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game. He is a candidate for the NBA Rookie of the Year.