2020 NBA RESTART PREVIEW: THE NEED-TO-KNOW ON THE COMPETITION, BETTING AND TIPS

NBA 2020: Season Restart

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The NBA was the first major domino to fall when coronavirus scatter-bombed the sporting landscape worldwide back in March. The game between Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder on 11 March was postponed just before tip-off after the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 – in the wake of a regrettable press conference ‘prank’ – and the NBA season was suspended soon afterwards.

As sports leagues and competitions around the globe gradually get back underway, it’s been an agonising wait for hoops fans – but the end of the hiatus is in sight.

The NBA, which had only five weeks of the regular season (15–19 games per team) remaining when it was suspended, will resume on 30 July in Orlando, Florida, and run until 12 October at the latest.

Our NBA preview breaks down what the revamped format means for the NBA playoffs and Championship contenders, and how NBA odds and NBA betting have been affected by the four-month interruption.

FORMAT EXPLAINED: HOW THE NBA RESTART WILL BE STAGED

On 4 June, the NBA Board of Governors approved the resumption of the NBA season at Disney World in Orlando. But not everyone’s invited to the Florida bubble.

Only 22 of the NBA’s 30 franchises (nine from the Eastern Conference, 13 from the West) will venture to Orlando – essentially, just the teams that were still in the hunt for the playoffs before the season’s suspension.

Teams retain the wins they have already earned in the 2019–20 season and will play eight seeding games each to determine the final standings and playoffs seeds. The top seven teams from each of the Eastern and Western Conferences automatically progress to the playoffs.

The team in each conference with the eighth-best record automatically books a playoffs spot if they are more than four games ahead of the ninth-ranked team in their conference. If the gap between eighth and ninth is four games or less, a play-in tournament will take place. In the best-of-two series, the ninth-placed team will have to beat the eighth-placed side in two head-to-head games to oust them for the last playoffs berth.

All matches will be played in front of empty stands at Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

NBA PREVIEW: MAD SCRAMBLE FOR NBA PLAYOFFS SPOTS

Milwaukee Bucks had all but stitched up the Eastern Conference’s top seed pre-COVID-19, amassing a NBA-best 53–12 record. Toronto Raptors (46–18), Boston Celtics (43–21), Miami Heat (41–24), Indiana Pacers (39–26) and Philadelphia 76ers (39–26) are assured of their place in the playoffs but will all jostle for position during the seeding games.

That leaves Brooklyn Nets (30–34), Orlando Magic (30–34) and Washington Wizards (24–40) to scrap for the last two post-season berths in the East. But the Wizards are at long NBA odds to unseat the Nets or Magic, with the team almost needing to go unbeaten through the seeding games just to force a play-in tournament.

It’s a bit more complicated in the Western Conference, with 13 teams in playoffs contention. Los Angeles Lakers are looking good for the top seed with a 49–14 record; Los Angeles Clippers (44–20) and Denver Nuggets (43–22) are still a mathematical chance of finishing atop the conference, but NBA betting odds reflect that LeBron James’ Lakers almost have it locked down.

Meanwhile, Utah Jazz (41–23), Oklahoma City Thunder (40–24), Houston Rockets (40–24) and Dallas Mavericks (40–27) are home and hosed as far as the playoffs are concerned. Eighth-placed Memphis Grizzlies (32–33) are in the box seat for the last spot in the West, but Portland Trail Blazers (29–37), New Orleans Pelicans (28–36), Sacramento Kings (28–36), San Antonio Spurs (27–36) and Phoenix Suns (26–39) are all capable of forcing a play-in tournament scenario.

NBA PREVIEW: LAKERS, CLIPPERS AND BUCKS THE TEAMS TO BEAT

The question at the pointy end of NBA betting discussions and NBA previews is: which team will take out the Championship?

As of 8 July, Milwaukee Bucks were the narrow title favourites according to NBA odds. This is chiefly due to two factors: the two-way dominance of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks’ easier path to the NBA Finals. Defending champions Toronto Raptors – as well as Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers – are capable of competing, but the ‘Greek Freak’ and a support cast headlined by Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton appear to have the measure of their Eastern rivals.

LA Lakers have been shaded for Championship favouritism in NBA betting, while LA Clippers are not far behind in NBA odds.

The Lakers’ claims are spearheaded by megastar duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis, while the Clippers boast Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as their main men. The cross-city rivals square off on the opening day of the Disney World restart and seem destined for a mouth-watering showdown in the Western Conference Finals.

But Houston Rockets are still in the mix if James Harden and Russell Westbrook can find their rhythm, while European stars Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic will keep Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks in the frame.

NBA PLAYER NEWS: MOVES, SKIPPING THE RESTART, NBA MVP

There have been few trades and player transfers of note during the NBA’s shutdown, although former Cleveland Cavaliers Championship winner JR Smith has reunited with LeBron James as a replacement for Avery Bradley, who has opted out of playing in the NBA restart in Orlando.

Other players who have announced they will skip the bubble due to injury, family reasons or testing positive to COVID-19 include the Wizards’ Bradley Beal, the Pacers’ Victor Oladipo, the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan, the Mavericks’ Willie Cauley-Stein and the Blazers’ Trevor Ariza.

Free agent DeMarcus Cousins was in demand but will sit out the NBA’s resumption to rehab for the 2020–21 season.

As of 8 July, several NBA betting markets remain available for player awards. Current NBA odds strongly suggest last year’s winner Giannis Antetokounmpo will comfortably stave LeBron James’s challenge for the NBA MVP award, and the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant will beat out Pelicans sensation Zion Williamson – who missed the first four months of the season with injury – for the Rookie of the Year nod.

Antetokounmpo is also the red-hot favourite for the Defensive Player of the Year award, while the Thunder’s Dennis Schroder is expected to take out the sixth Man of the Year prize. The Heat’s Bam Adebayo is the leading contender for the Most Improved Player of the Year honour.

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