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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Key Factors for Success During the NBA Season Restart

On June 14, I provided my initial thoughts about the NBA season restart. The 22 teams participating in the restart have been in Orlando since early July, and the regular season is schedule to resume on Thursday July 30. Here are four key factors for team success during the NBA season restart:

1: No positive COVID-19 tests

Any player who tests positive for COVID-19 will be tested a second time to make sure that the first test was not a false positive. If the second test is positive, that player will be placed in "isolation housing" until he has two negative tests more than 24 hours apart and until he is cleared by the league's designated physicians. Obviously, if a key rotation player--let alone a star player--tests positive and has to miss multiple games this could have a decisive impact on (1) playoff seeding during the eight remaining regular season games and/or (2) the outcome of a playoff series.

2: Conditioning

It has been four months since the NBA shut down after Rudy Gobert's positive COVID-19 test. Older NBA fans may recall that prior to the NBA's lockout-shortened 50 game 1999 season Shawn Kemp was known as a lean, athletic dunker--but when play resumed he resembled the Pillsbury Doughboy. It is unlikely that any current NBA player--let alone a star of the magnitude that Kemp had been--will let himself go to that extent but NBA players have bodies that are like finely tuned machines; several months of not playing basketball will inevitably have a negative effect on every player, but the players who were the most diligent about their conditioning will be the players who are least likely to get injured and the most likely to consistently perform at a high level.

3: Team chemistry

The Utah Jazz have an obvious potential issue regarding Rudy Gobert's behavior prior to when he tested positive for COVID-19; the relationship between Gobert and Donovan Mitchell was a bit contentious before, and even though the players are publicly indicating that there are no problems it remains to be seen if that is true.

Team chemistry can be delicate even during the best of times but a four month hiatus followed by a somewhat controversial restart--in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, civil unrest, and a divisive election year--is sure to lead to some challenging moments on and off the court. Not only do teams have to create or recapture on-court chemistry, but there are also a host of issues both inside and outside the league that could cause or exacerbate tension.

The teams that are able to maintain focus and pull together as opposed to drift apart will be the teams that will fare the best. This requires not only strong leadership from management and the coaching staff but also from veteran players who can provide stability in the locker room.

4: Matchups

The NBA has never played games under these conditions: no home court advantage, no cheering fans on-site, and all of the players required to live in isolation until their team is eliminated from contention. Many of the factors that naturally and organically generate emotions and provide advantages for the home team will not be present. This means that matchups--which are always important in the NBA--will be more important than ever. It will be very interesting to see if teams move up or down in the standings to seek out--or avoid--facing a particular team in the playoffs. The talent gap at the very top may be too much for the eighth seed to overcome even with the nullification of home court advantage, but this season more than just about any other presents a great opportunity for lower seeded teams to get hot and knock off higher seeded teams.

Matchups are significant not only at the team level but also in terms of individual matchups during games. Rosters may be in flux like never before as a result of positive COVID-19 tests and/or injuries due to lack of conditioning, so a coach's ability to identify and exploit matchup advantages will be even more important than usual.

It may be helpful to bookmark this schedule and odds page from SBD in order to see updated odds and matchup statistics for each game from the beginning of the restart all the way through the 2020 NBA Finals.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:46 PM



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