Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 10, 2020

This is how the NBA would have unfolded

By MATTHEW RITCHIE | April 3, 2020

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At this very point, the world is in the midst of a serious global pandemic. Multiple countries, including the United States, are ramping up their lockdown restrictions as everyone rushes to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). People are locked inside, hopefully self-quarantining and social distancing, looking for ways to stay busy and entertained. 

Just when the world needed the sports world most, in its time of need and boredom, sports vanished. Major League Baseball shutdown their Spring Training and pushed back the start of their regular season indefinitely. The National Football League ended all pre-draft workouts, including pro days and combine related activities. And the National Basketball Association (NBA), my baby and shining star, suspended its season for the time being, with no end to the hiatus in sight. 

Much like other public events guided by the good ol’ “American Spirit,” it seemed as though the NBA was going to attempt to persevere through the season by taking the necessary sanitary precautions for practices and games. The League was prepared to continue on with the season, with their stars, owners and commissioner fully ready to proceed in empty arenas and locked down locker rooms.

However, on March 11, two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert was placed onto the injury list due to illness before the Utah Jazz’s matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The game was immediately postponed, while the arena was then quarantined as Gobert was rushed to a local hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19. The League, recognizing the number of people that could have been already infected by connection to Gobert and how many others could already have the virus, suspended the 2019-2020 season indefinitely. 

It seems like in one fell swoop, due to the far-reaching and swift movement of the pandemic, we lost the NBA season. And not just any NBA season: We lost one of the most entertaining seasons in recent history. So to make up for it, I am going to share my predictions for how the lost season would have unfolded if it had continued without coronavirus. This article won’t be super in-depth, as it will just cover the regular season and how it would have unfolded.

First of all, the Los Angeles Lakers were going to capture the No.1 seed in the Western Conference. They were sitting at 49-14, and had clinched a playoff berth already. The team was 8-2 in their last 10 matchups, and was coming off a stretch of games where they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Orleans Pelicans in four consecutive games. They were armed with a motivated and healthy LeBron James, a legitimate MVP candidate and two-way monster in the form of Anthony Davis, and an increasingly improving rotation of role players. They were five and half games ahead of the second place Clippers and were trending upwards. 

On the other side of the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks were going to be the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but that was already a forgone conclusion to be quite honest. They had amassed an uber-impressive record of 53-12, making them six and a half games clear of the second place Toronto Raptors. The Bucks were a dominating force, leading the NBA in points per game (118.6) and plus/minus (11.3). They also had the best defensive rating of any team in the League at 101.6, suffocating other teams in the NBA with elevated play on both sides of the ball. 

The middle of the standings for each conference held intriguing storylines for the next 20 or so games. In the Western Conference, the Clippers were going to hold on to the second seed. They were clearly right behind the Lakers, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George surrounded by a talented supporting cast that was constructed to buoy even with Kawhi’s load managing during the regular season. 

The following seeds underneath the top two is where the Western Conference was getting interesting. Seeds three through six were only separated by a mere two-and-a-half games. Basically, there was no reason to believe that the Denver Nuggets or Utah Jazz were going to finish as top four seeds. Those two teams were fraudulent and marred by inconsistent play. I believe that the Thunder and Rockets, who were knotted up at the fifth and sixth seeds, were going to overtake the two frauds as the third and fourth seeds (order interchangeable). 

The Dallas Mavericks were solidly in seventh place and were likely to stay there. The eighth seed was going to be a dogfight, with the Memphis Grizzlies leading by three-and-a-half games. Coincidentally, Ja Morant and the Grizzlies also had the toughest remaining schedule left in the Western Conference. 

The Portland Trailblazers, who were underachieving to say the least, and the Zion Williamson-led New Orleans Pelicans were both threatening to grab the last spot in the playoffs. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the Grizzlies were going to choke away the last spot, with the Trailblazers, armed with all-NBA talent and veterans in the form of Damian Lillard and company, were going to rise from the depths and grab the last spot.

The Eastern Conference was decidedly more cut and dry. All the Toronto Raptors, who lost Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and replaced him with — checks notes — undrafted rookie Terence Davis, proved was that they were still title contenders, having already clinched a playoff berth. Head coach and shoo-in for Coach of the Year Nick Nurse leaned on the growth of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, and the veteran presence of Kyle Lowry to have one of the best teams in the NBA. They were going to have the second best record in the East. 

The Boston Celtics, who also clinched a playoff berth, were powered by the three-headed dragon of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown, who were all averaging 20+ points. I believe they were clearly the third best team in the conference. The only team that would have plausibly caught up to them were the Miami Heat, who, despite their atrocious away record (14-19), were only a couple of games back of the third seed. 

The Indiana Pacers and the Philadelphia 76ers had identical records at 39-26. The Pacers, who had gained back All-Star guard Victor Oladipo after he missed most of the season due to injury, had won seven of their last 10 games. The 76ers boasted a ridiculous 29-2 record at home, and with 10 games remaining at their home arena against seven on the road, they were slated to improve their record a little bit. In terms of this trio of teams, I predict that the Pacers were going to overtake the Heat, capturing the fourth seed. Meanwhile, the 76ers were going to stay below the Heat, finishing fifth and sixth. 

The bottom of the Eastern Conference was pretty much set, as the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic sat in the seventh and eighth seeds. The two teams were separated by just half a game. There was really nothing between the two squads, so just flip a coin to see who finishes ahead. 

We have yet to see if the NBA will continue in any capacity in the future. While I’m pessimistic about the season’s chances, it would be fun to see one of the NBA’s best seasons progress in any form, even if they just start the playoffs automatically. 

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