Pandemic shouldn’t tarnish NBA title

Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, second from left, tries to drive in traffic during a game against the Indiana Pacers on March 4 in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo and the Bucks owned the NBA’s top record when the league was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Morry Gash | The Associated PressMilwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton, right, dribbles as Washington Wizards’ Shabazz Napier defends during a Feb. 24 game in Washington. Middleton and the Bucks hope to regain the momentum they had before the league was suspended in mid-March.

Nick Wass | The Associated Press

The National Basketball Association is coming back.

The NBA suspended its season indefinitely on March 11 after a player tested positive for the coronavirus, but the league announced June 4 that it was going to try and complete the 2019-20 season.

Instead of wrapping up the regular season, only 22 of the 30 NBA teams will be in action. All games will be played inside Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando.

The 22 teams will begin arriving in Florida on July 7 before taking part in training camp from July 9-29. Each team will then play eight seeding games before the playoffs begin Aug. 17.

The 16-team playoff bracket (eight teams in each conference) will be determined by winning percentage, instead of most wins like in past years. The reason that’s being implemented is because not all 22 teams have played the same number of games to this point.

The Milwaukee Bucks held the NBA’s best record (53-12, .815 winning percentage) when play was suspended. The Bucks also held a 6½-game lead over the Toronto Raptors (46-18, .719) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, so it seems likely that Milwaukee will be the No. 1 seed in the East.

In my hours upon hours of breaking down the details of the NBA restart, I’ve come across plenty of comments on social media. One thought I’ve seen numerous times and can’t get out of my head is that the NBA title will be tarnished and won’t carry as much value for whichever team wins it all.

Wait, what?

Sure, the end of this season will be like no other before it and when thinking about the 2019-20 champion, people will immediately think of COVID-19, but that shouldn’t tarnish a championship.

In fact, I’d argue that the team that wins it all this season truly deserved it.

Any momentum teams had back in mid-March was completely wiped out. Teams that were dealing with injuries might get all-star players back. Home-court advantages are out the window, as teams will play on a neutral court in front of no fans.

It’s basically back to square one for all 22 teams.

The only remnant of the suspended regular season is that the team’s records won’t be wiped away. But really, I don’t think it’d be crazy for the team with the worst record in the playoffs to win the title.

Could the Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers (the Western Conference’s top team) still meet in the NBA Finals, like many people predicted since the start of the season? Sure, but I also think it’s more likely that neither of those teams make it now.

The most likely matchup for the Bucks in the first round of the postseason is the Orlando Magic or Brooklyn Nets. If you’d asked me in March how the Bucks would fare against either of those teams, I would have said Milwaukee wins in five games at most. Now, I’m not as confident and think either team could take down the Bucks.

It’s often said that the league’s hottest team at the end of the year is the one that gets to hoist the championship trophy (think back to the Raptors last season), and that saying will likely play out to be true in the NBA this fall.

Did COVID-19 ruin the Bucks’ best chance to claim their first title since 1970-71? Only time will tell.

Just be happy the team has the opportunity to finish what it started and actually gets to play — I’m looking at you Major League Baseball.

The remainder of the NBA season will be a unique and wild ride, but it might also be the most intense few months of basketball you get to watch in your lifetime, so enjoy every second of it.

Morgan Rode is the sports editor for NEW Media. Readers can contact him at sports@newmedia-wi.com.