The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to return July 30 at Walt Disney World in Orlando. It has been a long time coming. Four-plus months to be precise.
But once the season does resume, teams are not going to have any time getting adjusted to what will be a new normal. No fans in attendance. No home-court advantage. Playing in a bubble.
For some of these teams, the issues are magnified even further. Only eight regular-season games remain for each squad. Some have no real chance of earning a playoff spot. Others are limited by shrinking rosters due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s in this that I look at five NBA teams facing the biggest hurdles with the season set to resume in about two weeks.
Brooklyn Nets: Roster takes a major hit
At this point, there’s no telling whether Brooklyn will even be playing playoff basketball. The team heads to Orlando with a 30-34 record and as the seventh seed back east. Though, it is only 5.5 games ahead of the Washington Wizards for a top-eight spot. If Washington were within four games of that final slot, Brooklyn would have to take part in a play-in tournament.
Given the nature of the Nets’ roster, this is not great news. The likes of Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince have all tested positive for COVID-19 and won’t return this season. Veteran Wilson Chandler opted out due to health concerns. This forced Brooklyn to sign the 40-year-old Jamal Crawford off the street. Even if interim head coach Jacque Vaughn and Co. were to make the playoffs, the Nets are looking at a quick first-round exit.
Phoenix Suns: Not much reason for optimism
It will be fun to see the likes of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton take center stage at Walt Disney World. They represent two major building blocks for the long-downtrodden Suns. Wing Kelly Oubre was also playing at a high level prior to the season being suspended. Despite this, Phoenix likely has just those eight regular-season games remaining before being jettisoned from Orlando.
The Suns will resume their season boasting a 26-39 record and as the 13th seed in the Western Conference. They were among the final teams invited to resume the campaign. They are also six games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot. Even if Phoenix were to find itself within four games, there’s another three teams separating it from the ninth seed. This will likely be an exercise in futility for the squad.
Houston Rockets: Struggles and title aspirations
Russell Westbrook’s positive COVID-19 test adds yet another layer for a Rockets team that pretty much has championship or bust written all over it. He’s yet to make it to Orlando. In fact, James Harden is not practicing with his team right now. This most definitely isn’t great news for a Mike D’Antoni-led squad that resumes the season as the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a 40-24 record.
Houston has to hold off the Dallas Mavericks for that sixth spot if it hopes to avoid either Los Angeles team in the first round of the playoffs. Of its eight remaining regular-season games, Houston takes on the likes of the Bucks, Lakers, Pacers and 76ers. It’s definitely going to be tough sledding from here on out.
Washington Wizards: No chance to make the playoffs
The decision by forward Davis Bertans to opt out of the season has been big news around the NBA. He made this decision with free agency squarely on his mind. It’s drawn criticism from other impending free agents who have decided to head to Orlando. It’s also going to have wide-ranging ramifications for a long-downtrodden Wizards squad.
Washington sits at 24-40 on the season and 5.5 games behind Orlando for the final playoff spot. Should it not be within four games of that final seed, the team will leave Orlando in short order. Unfortunately, star guard Bradley Beal wouldn’t have been enough even if he didn’t decide to opt out. The only saving grace for Washington is that it has games remaining against the Nets, Suns, Pelicans and Thunder. Could the team go on a surprising run? Don’t bank on it.
Utah Jazz: Drama between two star players
It’s rather obvious that Utah heads into the NBA restart with championship aspirations. It sits at 40-24 and could potentially earn a top-three seed in the Western Conference. If that were to happen, the Jazz would be in a tremendous position heading into the playoffs.
Though, there’s a major backdrop to all of this. Jazz star center Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test back on March 11 pretty much led to the NBA suspending operations. One day later, and teammate Donovan Mitchell tested positive. It led to a rift between the two that just recently seems to have cleared up a bit. Even then, the on-court dynamic between these two All-Stars is going to be one of the top stories.