Despite all of the ongoing concerns about current state of social matters across the United States, the NBA moved forward with its plan to restart and finish the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World.
Scrimmages began Thursday, and league officially released the schedule for seeding games that tip off next week. With that, the road to the NBA Finals for the Los Angeles Lakers is now much more clear.
What to know about NBA restart
First off, the basics.
Twenty-two teams entered the Orlando bubble; with the 16 of them already in playoff positioning, and six (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, Washington) who were within six games of the eighth seed when play was suspended in March.
Starting July 30, each team will play eight games to determine seeding for the playoffs, which begin on Aug. 17.
If the ninth seed is within four games of the eighth seed at the end of that stretch, those two will have a play-in tournament. In such a series, the ninth seed would have to beat the eighth seed twice, but the eighth seed would only have to win once.
Lakers outlook in bubble
As for the Lakers’ road in 2020, the team is practically assured to be the top seed in the Western Conference. The team’s magic number to clinch the top seed (combined wins and Clippers losses) is three.
In other words, even if the Clippers were to go 8-0, the Lakers would still have to go 2-6 in order to drop down one spot. The Lakers will have the opportunity to further put a hold on the No. 1 seed in with their first game as they face the Clippers on the first night of the league’s restart.
As for the rest of their schedule, the Lakers drew a pretty tough slate. Only one of their games is against a team that was not in playoff position (the final game vs. Sacramento on Aug. 13). Their other six games are against the current 3-6 seeds in the West (Denver, Oklahoma City, Utah, Houston), and two tough Eastern teams in the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers, both of whom beat the Lakers in their prior matchups this season.
Most important for the Lakers in these games, however, will be figuring out their best lineups, especially in the wake of adding JR Smith to replace Avery Bradley, who chose not to return due to concerns over the health of his oldest child.
There also is the loss of Rajon Rondo until the playoffs because of surgery required to repair a fractured right thumb that was sustained in practice.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has twice indicated Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is expected to start in place of Bradley. Caldwell-Pope who is a career-best shooting year (47.2% from the field, 39.4% from deep) and is a serviceable defender.
Alex Caruso, the best defender of the bunch, is shooting a respectable 35.5% from three-point range, and has great chemistry with LeBron James.
Dion Waiters and Smith both have playoff experience and won’t be afraid of the stage. Smith is the better shooter, and probably the best of anyone in this group while Waiters is the best at creating his own shot. Both are complete unknowns with what they will bring to the team.
Of course, the onus will be on the shoulders of the Lakers’ two big stars in James and Anthony Davis. James has been on a mission this entire season, leading the NBA in assists and being atop the MVP ballot of many at the time of the stoppage. In his 17th season, this could represent LeBron’s last great chance at bringing home another championship.
For Davis this will be his chance to show he was right in forcing this trade to the Lakers. Davis’ talent has never been in question and he is the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year this season, but he has made the playoffs just twice, one of which was a sweep.
This is his opportunity to prove he is truly amongst the greats of the league by dominating on the biggest stage.
The Lakers have their chance to bring home their first title since 2010. The road is unlike anything the league has ever seen, and we will soon see if this team can regain the form they had when the season was postponed and prove they are at the top of the NBA mountain.
Looking beyond Orlando restart
The NBA Draft Lottery will take place on Aug. 20, with the 2020 NBA Draft itself happening on Oct. 16. Just two days later, at 3 p.m. PT, teams can begin negotiating with free agents.
The free agent moratorium, in which players can agree to deals, begins just six hours later at 9 p.m. The moratorium ends at 9 a.m. on Oct. 23, free agents will be officially allowed to sign with teams.
While the date is not yet set in stone, the 2020-21 season is expected to start at some point in December.
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!