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Why the 2015 NBA playoffs feel wide open – but probably shouldn’t


The Golden State Warriors just completed one of the best regular seasons of all-time.

They went 67-15, posting the NBA’s best defense and second-best offense. They won their six fastest-paced games of the year and their six slowest-paced. They have two All-Stars (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson), a probable MVP (Curry), a probable Defensive Player of the Year (Draymond Green), someone who might be even better defensively (Andrew Bogut), a possible Sixth Man of the Year (Andre Iguodala) and a possible Coach of the Year (Steve Kerr). They project to get substantially better once they narrow their playoff rotation.

Of the 16 teams to win 65 games in a season, 13 won the title.

So why aren’t the Warriors treated as overwhelming favorites to win the 2015 championship?

I suspect it’s because they didn’t win a playoff series last season.

There’s comfort in familiarity, and this year, there’s little familiarity with the NBA’s top regular-season teams performing well in the postseason. The Warriors haven’t played a series as the higher seed since 1992 or won a series as the higher seed since 1977. The Cavaliers had been miserable for the last four years. Neither the Hawks nor Clippers have ever made the conference finals (though Atlanta reached what was then called the division finals). The Rockets have won only one playoff series since 1997.

That’s why so many people are clinging to the sixth-seeded Spurs, who are the defending champions, have reached the last two NBA Finals and have made 18 straight postseasons.

San Antonio is really the only familiar contender in the field. Last year’s other conference-finalists – the Thunder, Heat and Pacers – missed the playoffs entirely.

Since the NBA went to a 16-team playoff format in 1984, just nine conference-finalists missed the playoffs the following year – 2010 Suns, 2004 Lakers, 2004 Timberwolves, 2001 Bucks, 1998 Bulls and 1988 Mavericks and a whopping three from last season.

Most years, there are more returning conference-finalists as No. 1 seeds than there are returning conference-finalists in the entire 2014 postseason at any seed. Every single year, there had been a returning conference-finalist in a top-two seed.

This year, it’s the sixth-seeded Spurs, and that’s it.

Here’s each postseason in the current format and the seeds held by returning conference-finalists:

  • 2015: 6, X, X, X (SAS, IND, MIA, OKC)
  • 2014: 1, 1, 2, 7 (IND, SAS, MIA, MEM)
  • 2013: 1, 1, 2, 7 (MIA, OKC, SAS, BOS)
  • 2012: 1, 2, 2, 7 (CHI, MIA, OKC, DAL)
  • 2011: 2, 3, 4, X (LAL, BOS, ORL, PHO)
  • 2010: 1, 1, 2, 4 (CLE, LAL, ORL, DEN)
  • 2009: 1, 2, 3, 8 (LAL, BOS, SAS, DET)
  • 2008: 2, 3, 4, 4 (DET, SAS, CLE, UTA)
  • 2007: 1, 1, 2, 4 (DAL, DET, PHO, MIA)
  • 2006: 1, 1, 2, 2 (DET, SAS, MIA, PHO)
  • 2005: 2, 6, X, X (DET, IND, LAL, MIN)
  • 2004: 2, 3, 3, 5 (NJN, SAS, DET, DAL)
  • 2003: 2, 2, 5, 6 (SAC, NJN, LAL, BOS)
  • 2002: 2, 3, 6, X (SAS, LAL, PHI, MIL)
  • 2001: 2, 4, 7, 8 (LAL, NYK, POR, IND)
  • 2000: 1, 3, 3, 4 (IND, NYK, POR, SAS)
  • 1999: 2, 3, 4, X (IND, UTA, LAL, CHI)
  • 1998: 1, 1, 2, 8 (UTA, CHI, MIA, HOU)
  • 1997: 1, 1, 2, 7 (UTA, CHI, SEA, ORL)
  • 1996: 2, 2, 3, 5 (ORL, SAS, IND, HOU)
  • 1995: 2, 3, 3, 6 (IND, NYK, UTA, HOU)
  • 1994: 1, 2, 3, 3 (SEA, NYK, PHO, CHI)
  • 1993: 2, 3, 4, 6 (CHI, CLE, POR, UTA)
  • 1992: 1, 1, 5, 8 (POR, CHI, DET, LAL)
  • 1991: 1, 1, 3, 4 (CHI, POR, DET, PHO)
  • 1990: 1, 1, 3, 5 (DET, LAL, CHI, PHO)
  • 1989: 1, 1, 8, X (LAL, DET, BOS, DAL)
  • 1988: 1, 1, 2, 7 (BOS, LAL, DET, SEA)
  • 1987: 1, 1, 4, 6 (LAL, BOS, MIL, HOU)
  • 1986: 1, 1, 3, 3 (BOS, LAL, DEN, PHI)
  • 1985: 1, 1, 2, 8 (LAL, BOS, MIL, PHO)

It’s jarring how much 2015 sticks out, and I think this has created a false sense of parity.

But everything we know about the Warriors suggests they have filled the vacuum created when LeBron James left the Heat, Paul George got hurt and Kevin Durant got hurt.

The Warriors might not win the title (the field is always a safe bet). But if you don’t consider them clear favorites – especially if you’re picking the Spurs – consider whether you’re leaning too much on comfort rather than a sober view of the season.

Report: NBA eying in mid-July 2021 NBA Finals in advance of Olympics

Tokyo Olympics
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The NBA plans to rush through the 2020 offseason and begin the 2020-21 season Dec. 1… just to rush through the 2020-21 season.

Frank Isola of The Athletic:

The NBA Finals normally begin 226 days after the regular-season opener with an 18-day window to play the best-of-seven series. So, based on a typical timeline, a Dec. 1 opener would mean the Finals would be held July 15 – Aug. 1., 2021.

The Tokyo Olympics are slated to begin July 23, 2021.

So, something must give.

It probably won’t be regular-season games. As much as the NBA would like its players to get exposure in the Olympics, owners will be extremely reluctant to surrender direct revenue. Likewise, the many NBA players not headed to the Olympics should share similar financial concerns.

More likely, the league will reduce the number of rest days during the 2020-21 season. That seems risky given the drastic disruptions already affecting conditioning entering the season.

It’s also possible players whose NBA teams advance deep enough in the playoffs just won’t be able to play in the Olympics (or Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, which are scheduled for June and July 2021).

Like with many things affected by coronavirus, there are no good answers – just hard decisions on what to compromise.

Details leak on life inside Orlando bubble: Daily testing, 1,600 people, 2K crowd noise at games

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Players do not report to the Walt Dinsey World campus in Orlando for another month to restart the NBA season — and it will be weeks after that before games start on July 31 — but we’re beginning to learn more about life inside that bubble.

A bubble the players from a couple of teams could be in for more than three months.

On a Friday conference call, representatives of the National Basketball Players Association backed the 22-team return-to-play format.  Out of that call, we learned some more details about what life will be like in the bubble, courtesy Shams Charania of The Athletic. Among his notes:

– 1,600 maximum people on campus
– Coronavirus testing every day; minimum seven days of quarantine for a player who tests positive
– There could be crowd noise via NBA 2K video game sounds, but the NBA and NBPA is still discussing creative opportunities

That 1,600 people in the bubble/campus includes players and staffs from teams (about 770 people) plus referees, league personnel, broadcasters, and more. It fills up quickly, which is why family members — likely just three per player — will not be allowed until after at least the second round of the playoffs when a number of teams have cleared out (an issue for players).

Players were asked once in the bubble not to leave, and the same applied to their families when they arrive. This is not a summer vacation at Disney World. While there are no armed guards or security to keep players and staff on the campus, the goal was to create a safe environment and people heading out into greater Orlando, for whatever reason, sets that goal back.

The daily testing will be done by the NBPA and will involve mouth or light nasal swabs, not the invasive ones. Also, there will be no antibody testing, and no blood tests.

Teams will get a three-hour practice window during training camp and on off-days, which will include time in the provided wight room. After that, the equipment will be sanitized before the next team uses the courts.

Crowd noise — as seen on the Bundesliga soccer broadcasts from Germany seen here in the USA — is controversial. While the league is talking to the makers of the NBA 2K video game about piped-in crowd noise, that is definitely a topic still up for discussion.

As Keith Smith discussed on the ProBasketballTalk Podcast this week, games in Orlando are expected to be played sort of like at Summer League, with some starting at noon (or early afternoon) and alternating on courts all day. East Coast teams will likely have the earlier slots while there could be some 10 p.m. Eastern start times for a couple of West Coast teams (where it would still be just 7 p.m.).

We previously knew players would be allowed to golf and eat at outdoor restaurants at the Disney resort, so long as they followed social distancing guidelines.

For everything we know about life in the bubble, there are far more questions left unanswered. In the next month we will learn a lot more.


NBA players’ union approves 22-team format restart of season

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It’s not perfect and there are still details to be worked out — including exactly when next season will start — but the NBA players are on board with 22-team restart plan for the NBA season in Orlando.

Friday the National Basketball Players Association, with 28 team representatives on the conference call, voted to approve the 22-team plan. Here is the official statement from the union:

“The Board of Player Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has approved further negotiations with the NBA on a 22-team return to play scenario to restart the 2019-20 NBA season. Various details remain to be negotiated and the acceptance of the scenario would still require that all parties reach agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”

This was expected. NBA Commissioner has worked closely with players union president Chris Paul of the Thunder and executive director Michelle Roberts throughout the process. There were no big surprises in the plan by the time it came up for a vote. Nobody got everything they wanted but everyone got a plan they could live with.

The issues still to be negotiated include some of the health and safety procedures — although players were informed on Friday’s call there will be daily testing and were asked not to leave the Orlando bubble — as well as the timing of the off-season and the start date of next season.

The biggest issue to be figured out still, of course, will be money.

It’s money that ultimately got owners and players to come together behind the 22-team format. It plays regular-season games — called “seeding games” — that can be broadcast on regional sports networks (helping those teams) plus a full playoffs with seven-game series broadcast on ESPN/ABC and TNT. Exactly what the financial picture for the league will be next season is still murky, but the sides are talking.

In terms of pure player safety, the league could have done better going straight to the 16-game postseason, but this was the balance of risk and financial reward the league settled upon.

The details of the format continue to leak out, and some of that is still to be negotiated, but with the player vote all sides have come together behind a plan.

The question becomes, can they pull it off?

Michael Jordan, Jordan Brand pledge $100 million to racial equality

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Black lives matter. This isn’t a controversial statement.

It isn’t. But for the legendarily apolitical Michael Jordan, it is a departure.

Jordan and the Jordan Brand jumped into the ongoing and intense national discussion of race and systemic racism Friday by announcing a $100 million donation over the next 10 years to racial equality and social justice causes. And Jordan linked himself to the black lives matter movement.

Jordan, during his playing career and after, has been cautious politically, rarely commenting on social issues. The “Republicans buy shoes, too” comment stuck to him, but as Roland Lazenby points out in his biography “Michael Jordan: The Life,” Jordan’s “keep your head down and don’t draw attention” political outlook was passed down as a family demeanor used to survive in rural North Carolina. It was how his parents, grandparents, and great grandparents viewed the world.

Jordan had already made a personal statement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Now Jordan has put his money where his mouth is.