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Roundtable: The NBA is back on track

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Stiffs writers react to the latest proposal to bring back the NBA

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Welcome back everyone! First of all, how excited are you that the NBA is closer and closer to returning?

Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): Given the state of the world right now, using the words “healthy distraction” certainly miss the larger picture; however, sports have always had a way of bringing people together. Some of the most traumatic times in United States and world history have utilized sports as a medium to talk about the most important aspects of being a human being. I hope this is one of those times.

As for the basketball, I’m so ready for it. I’ve missed basketball and the people around me that cover it greatly.

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I’m about a thirteen on a 1-10 scale. It’s certainly not preferable to the norm but this pause has built up an incredible amount of anticipation. It’s going to be the most open playoffs we’ve seen perhaps ever with multiple teams having a legit shot at the title, the Denver Nuggets among them.

Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): Super hyped! With all the uncertainty surrounding whether or not the season was actually going to get finished, it is nice to know that basketball is actually going to be played and the rest of the season will be had. With that being said, I love the Nuggets chances in Orlando and believe they really can make a run at the title. The Disney Parks slogan is “where dreams come true” and hopefully that will be the case for the Nuggets.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I am both fascinated to see the NBA play and afraid that we are still woefully unprepared to restart sports. Maybe another 6 weeks changes things, but with as many teams as possible roped into this I still have fears of losing crucial players to quarantine again and turning this whole scenario into a quagmire. That said, it’s hard not to be hyped to see a unique product with a Denver team that has as good a chance as any to go deep and do things that might be unprecedented in its 50+ year history.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Instead of playing out the regular season or going straight to the playoffs, is the NBA correct to do a shortened regular season with 22 teams??

Blackburn: My personal preference for this permanently affected season was to be innovative and put forth an entertaining product in a new way. Either a World Cup style pool play section, or re-seeding teams from 1 to 16 and mix up the conferences. What we look to be getting instead is the closest way possible the NBA can safely restart the season without going all the way. A few less teams and a few less games make it palatable, but it certainly feels like the most boring solution geared toward clearing financial barriers with Regional Sports Networks (RSNs).

Mikash: I’ve always been of the mindset that they should just go straight into the playoffs. We played 64-67 games already, that’s longer than some strike shortened seasons in the past. Go with the teams that have proven it over 75% of the season and let Jusuf Nurkic have a nice summer.

Ewing: I like how they are not bringing every team because frankly not every team deserves to be there. Some teams were certainly less deserving than others and I think all the teams that deserve to be in Orlando will be there. As for the regular season approach, I think it is definitely the right call because it should allow teams to get back into a rhythm. It would be incredibly unwise to take over two months off and expect teams first game back to be a playoff game. Playing the eight games before the playoffs will allow teams to get back into a rhythm and hopefully that will make for a much more exciting and competitive playoff environment.

Gross: I mean, at least it’s not all 30 teams. I think 22 teams is foolish; it creates more Covid risk with more players and personnel involved, and more games played that drags this part of the season out longer and shortens the offseason for all the actual playoff teams even more. But I’m not the one trying to balance TV contracts and revenue against player safety. I would have preferred to go straight to the playoffs after a warmup preseason played exclusively against the other conference, but here we are. All hail Zion I guess.

Denver Nuggets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA is discussing a modified play-in tournament for the 8th seed in each conference. Is Zion Williamson and TV ratings the only reason for the change? Is there something more?

Blackburn: The entire conversation around Zion Williamson has made me slightly cynical. He’s clearly a draw for the general public because of his blend of incredible skills and a unique body frame, but I just described Nikola Jokic as well, and he will finish the season First Team All-NBA for the second year in a row after showing out in the playoffs last year.

I’m definitely in favor of more innovation and bringing the NBA product forward, but bringing 22 teams into this format feels like a contrived number at best, and it doesn’t seem like a repeatable step for future seasons.

Mikash: Zion is for sure a reason, more games with high stakes to sell commercials for is a huge part of it too. I do think the NBA is using this as a trial run for the play-in idea though. Adam Silver has said he wanted to find a way to re-create the regular season drama from game 82 between the Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves a couple years ago. I wouldn’t be shocked if the play in tournament becomes a permanent thing.

Ewing: More drama is never a bad thing and with more drama comes greater TV ratings. Zion Williamson certainly has a lot to do with that and rightfully so, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch in the NBA.

The play in tournament will bring a lot more excitement to that final playoff spot, kind of like how they do it in the MLB. The NBA tiebreak games are a little different because they will involve a few more teams, but fans love games with high drama and I think that is what this new format will bring.

Gross: I don’t mind giving the playoff fringe teams more time to shine. It does help that Zion is on one of those fringe teams. I don’t like throwing all the work of 65ish games played up in the air and letting the seeds fall where they may, but again it’s a novel situation and the NBA is trying to hype its product and recoup revenue any way it can, especially without many fans in the stadium. I don’t see how this carries forward into future years, but along with reducing draft odds for tanking it’s possible that a future play-in tournament helps keep interest fresh (and actual play more interesting) for the #8-10 seeds in every conference.

Milwaukee Bucks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Do additional regular season games before the playoffs help or hurt the Denver Nuggets this season?

Blackburn: In terms of seeding, this hurts the Nuggets. In terms of the Nuggets winning a championship though, it probably helps. No matter what happens, the Nuggets will have a tough first round opponent. If they advance, the next two rounds would likely feature the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in some order. As it happens, the Nuggets will have games against each of those teams to try and accumulate additional data before the playoffs. More information is better than less, and the Nuggets need as much time as they can to figure out rotation dynamics and whether Michael Porter Jr. fits in or not.

Mikash: Hurt. The Nuggets cling to a slim lead in the standings and if they stumble on the re-start it’s not hard to see them falling as far as the sixth seed. If they play well it’s still a long shot that they’ll catch the Los Angeles Clippers in the two seed. Denver’s best case scenario was always a return to a 1-16 seeded playoffs. If they’re going to make this a magical trip to the magical kingdom they’re going to have to earn it.

Ewing: Help. The Nuggets often get off to slow starts to begin the season and I expect this new format to be no different. With that being said, if the Nuggets can start fast, they are only going to carry that momentum into the playoffs. Either way the situation is a win/win and I wouldn’t worry to much about the playoff seeding and who they match up with going into the postseason.

Everything about this season has been so different that you can almost throw everything out the window. In the end, having those eight games will hopefully allow Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to get their feet under them, while also allowing Michael Porter Jr. to find his rhythm before the playoffs begin. No matter if they win or lose those eight games, getting those three players ready and focused for the playoffs should be the main goal.

Gross: This hurts Denver seeding-wise, but does that matter? Even at a neutral site it’s hard to play only playoff squads (most of them high-caliber Western squads) and maintain the 3 seed. Losing home court can’t matter much now - who cares if you’re the 3 seed or the 6 seed if you’re playing in the same arena against the same team with the same minimum level of fans either way? If Denver still gets a positive matchup in the first round (ie, stays away from the LA teams) then I don’t think they’ll care.

It does give Denver the chance to gel their team after reflecting on what was working in early February and what was not in March, with a preseason and a significant number of regular season games to make adjustments. The road to the championship was always gonna be hard, but Denver has a fully healthy squad and the chance for the coaches to review their chosen strategy and make alterations along the way. It’s all about the end prize now.