While the NBA has many options regarding the rest of its season, only one will please fans and prevent long-term issues. How are the Trail Blazers impacted?
After having its season suspended by the COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus) pandemic, the NBA has a big decision to make regarding the way it’ll finish out the rest of its 2019-2020 season. According the Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, “everything’s on the table” when it comes to steps that the league can take to finish out the season.
This includes starting the playoffs with the standings as they currently are, playing out the regular season in its entirety, and resuming the season on a truncated schedule.
While all of these options have their pros and cons, only one will come without tremendous backlash from fans/teams (especially the Blazers, Pelicans, and Kings fans) and long-term scheduling issues, and that is to play out the rest of the regular season in its entirety, regardless of how long it takes. But first, let’s talk about the problems with the alternative options.
Starting the playoffs right away
If the NBA were to start the playoffs with the standings as they currently are, they would be completely cheating teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings, who are all trying to make a playoff run and sneak into the 8th seed in the western conference. While one could argue that was fair because the Grizzlies had won more games up to the point of the suspension, they need to consider the way the NBA season is scheduled.
In order to save teams from racking up ridiculous travel miles, fit in with the restrictions of various arena schedules, and avoid a tremendous amount of back to backs, the NBA has to schedule its games in a very specific way. In theory, all teams in the western conference are intended to play a pretty similar schedule, with the same amount of games against the same opponents (the same goes for the eastern conference). All teams are also intended to play 41 home games, and 41 away games. However, because of the restrictions the NBA has in its scheduling, teams often have to play very back-loaded or front-loaded schedules.
Take the Memphis Grizzlies’ schedule, for example, and compare it to that of the Portland Trail Blazers. While both teams have played a similar number of home games (33 for Memphis, 32 for Portland), Memphis has one of the hardest schedules remaining in the entire league, while Portland has one of the easiest.
Here’s Memphis’ remaining schedule: @ Portland, @ Utah, @ San Antonio, vs. OKC, @ Milwaukee, vs. New Orleans, @ New Orleans, vs. Boston, vs. Toronto, @ Toronto, vs. New York, vs. Dallas, @ Portland, @ Denver, vs. OKC, vs. Philadelphia, @ Houston. That’s 11 games against teams above .500, 9 road games, and 8 home games.
To compare, here’s Portland’s remaining schedule: vs. Memphis, vs. Houston, vs. Minnesota, vs. Dallas, @ Minnesota, @ Charlotte, @ Detroit, @ Boston, @ Philadelphia, @ Brooklyn, vs. Utah, vs. Memphis, vs. Cleveland, vs. Denver, @ Golden State, vs. LA Clippers. That’s 7 games against teams above .500, 7 road games, and 9 home games.
While this may be incredibly subjective, I’d guess that the Grizzlies are probably favored to win in 3-5 of their remaining games, while the Blazers are probably favored in 8-10 of their games. With only 3.5 games separating the two teams, it would simply be unfair to teams like the Blazers that suffered front-ended schedules to start the playoffs with the standings as they currently are. It would also cause the NBA a lot of financial troubles, but that’s an entirely different subject.
Playing out a truncated regular season
While playing out a truncated regular season may fix some of these problems, it would raise many others. How does the league decide which games to cut out of the schedule and which games to keep? Do they completely re-make the remaining schedule? Do they cut it in half? Would shortening the season from 16-18 remaining games to 4-8 really make any difference for teams like the Blazers, Pelicans, and Kings? Probably not. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to do things this way.
Playing out the 2020-2021 season in its entirety
The only viable option for the NBA is this: Wait patiently for the coronavirus to die off and for government officials to decide that it is safe to resume professional sports. Whether or not fans are allowed in the game is irrelevant at this point. Once this happens, the NBA needs to schedule all of the remaining games on each team’s schedule and finish out the regular season in its entirety. Because of how difficult it is for teams to reserve stadiums in June/July/August, the league should not look to keep all of its games in the same order as originally planned, rather, just make sure every team plays the games that they were supposed to play at some point, even if that means playing a team in back-to-back games when originally scheduled to play three weeks apart.
Then, once this is over, the playoffs should be carried out as they usually are, with four rounds of seven game series’. This will likely take the season’s end all the way to August or September. The league can then push back free agency and the NBA draft accordingly, and start a 66 game 2020-2021 season on December 25th, just as the NBA did following the 2011-2012 lockout. This allows the NBA to schedule the 66 game season fairly for all teams, and for all teams to prepare for the shortened season, which is far superior option to unfairly throwing the 2019-2020 season away just to get back on track for the 2020-2021 season. If the coronavirus is going to force the NBA to cut one season short, why not make sure that each team’s games are cut short fairly and with significant forewarning. Coaches and general managers prepared their 2019-2020 rosters based on an 82 game season, so let’s give that to them and allow them to prepare for a truncated season later.
While I understand that all of this is much easier said than done, this is the path that I believe is best for the NBA in this troubling time. There is simply no solution that will solve all problems, and the NBA, along with the rest of the economy, is gonna suffer tremendous financial loss no matter what. While we wait for the NBA’s return, let’s wish Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hood healthy recoveries, and be thankful that Carmelo Anthony and Damian Lillard will finally get some long-needed rest.