By Kyle Reiner Pineda
Basketball fans and athletes alike are about to enter uncharted waters as the NBA is hoping to resume the season in Orlando, Disneyworld. Teams are currently gearing up for the final stretch of the season with the mandatory quarantine, practices, and warm-up games following the suspension of play last March. This season will definitely be different in many ways as the result from the bubble could have lasting impacts on legacies, contracts, and player movements in the near future.
Looking through the sports which have restarted amidst the pandemic, we take a look at three-game trends to expect when the NBA reopens in the near future.
Expect slow starts and teams with more depth to win out
As one of the few sports to have restarted during the pandemic, football has given us a rough blueprint of how NBA games might pan out in the bubble (yes, it’s a rough comparison but there can still be key takeaways). In games post-lockdown, scoring came usually in the second half. This may be perhaps due to the lack of players getting used to playing without a crowd. Likewise, many matches stayed 0-0 by halftime only to end up finishing 5-2 or 3-0 at full-time.
|Percent Goals Scored in the first half||Percent Goals Scored in the second half|
In NBA lingo, we may see a similar pattern in the games after the restart as players try to get their legs back. While the modern NBA sees teams average at least 105 points per game, expect scoring barrages to start once we head closer to the Playoffs. As the intensity and the game results start to matter, expect games to sharpen up especially as seeding and momentum heading into the postseason matters. Watch as defense might be a prevailing theme in the first few games for coaches to get their rotations and momentum back (Old heads rejoice!).
Watch as more NBA teams will definitely use the expanded rosters from 15 players to 17 players to their advantage in the restart. As the new NBA schedule sees games played every other day, coaches will be forced to heavily rotate throughout the bubble and trust their bench more in key moments. This could be a dilemma as coaches usually shorten their benches from 11 to nine players once they get deeper into the Playoffs normally. They may need to give bench players extended playing time or use them in critical moments rather than just during garbage time. Whether coaches would be willing to play their stars 40 minutes a game with games being so close to each other will be interesting to watch.
Increased Injury Risks
Competitive and professional sports demand a lot from the human body thus the need for extensive preparation for players. As shown in the 2011 NBA lockout and 2011 NFL lockout, short preparation for regular-season games leads to increased risk for injury. The 2011 NBA season saw a 23 percent increase in injuries and the infamous Derrick Rose torn ACL season. The 2011 NFL season meanwhile saw 10 players rupture their Achilles tendon during the shortened training camp alone. How each team’s coaching and medical staff will handle the compressed schedule will determine a team’s success not just for this season but also for the 2021-22 season.
Load management has already been rampant in the NBA with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George leading the way. If football’s restart is any indication, load management just might be the solution for teams to avoid injury and burnout. As shown in the top football division in Germany (Bundesliga), 50 percent of teams have maintained their pre-lockdown running distances. The more concerning figure though is the 61 percent increase in injuries from the halt in play to the restart. As teams have eight games of regular season play before the postseason, expect teams to adjust the minutes of their stars to 20-30 minutes a game rather than totally rest them once they lock up their seeding. Given that there is no home-court advantage in play, teams will just want to shake off the rust and get into game shape again before the Playoffs roll in.
Fewer upsets, more blowouts?
In the Premier League, Bundesliga, and Serie A, the top four teams of each league have won 17 percent more games after the lockdown than before the suspension. This number may apply in the context of the NBA, but with the reservation that football clubs have a wider variance of budget and resources across their respective leagues, unlike the NBA. Teams will relatively have the same food (dietary concerns could be an issue for some), facilities, and accommodation given that all participants will be in the Orlando bubble. Where the difference lies; however, is in the different roster quality, coaching methods, and other small variables that could skew towards the favorites more. It will be very interesting how bet makers will place odds in teams especially without crowds and only the 22 teams returning for the season.
This could mean good news for the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks who sit comfortably at the top of their conference standings. Meanwhile, this would not bode well for teams who are playing catch-up in the bubble like the Portland Trailblazers or the Washington Wizards who will be forced to make tough decisions in playing their superstars heavy minutes for a playoff berth. A prevailing theme of “who has more depth down the stretch” could be a key factor in determining the champion is seen in football and could play a role in the NBA season too. Managing minutes and fatigue could be a major difference especially next season if ever the NBA plans to start on Christmas Day with additional games in the Tokyo Olympics.
Likewise, in the restarts after the lockdown, the Bundesliga has already seen a six (6) percent increase in wins by three goals or more from 24 percent prior to 30 percent today. Blowouts will become more common in the NBA restart especially with bench utilization and with no crowd to fuel a losing team. 15-20 point leads might actually look secure now with no crowd pushing the losing team to come back and the hindsight of playing another game the following day. We are glad that the playoff race in both conferences will keep the regular season competitive or else, the first eight games could look like an extended pre-season for some teams. As we try to find closure to this current season, we can expect a wild finish to crown a champion this year.