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Sports Corner

By: Robert Bishop

Back again, and with only approval from the Players’ Association remaining, it seems the pieces are coming together for the completion of the NBA season. The NBA regular season is set to resume on July 31, with 22 teams partaking in eight regular-season games before the playoffs. The 22 teams will be comprised of the 16 teams that were in the playoff field when the season was suspended, along with the Spurs, Blazers, Pelicans, Wizards, Kings, and Suns. It isn’t entirely clear how seeding will work for the playoffs, but this is a best-case scenario for the NBA at-large.

One interesting wrinkle to the playoff field will be this new caveat: if the ninth-place team in the conference standings is within four games of eighth-place, the two teams will square off in a play-in series. The eighth-place team will need to win a game to advance to the playoffs; on the other hand, the ninth-place team would need to win back-to-back match-ups. The back end of the Western Conference playoff field will be a free-for-all as the quintet of teams in the expanded field will look to catch the Memphis Grizzlies.

Last week, Philadelphia’s good fortune of having the benefit of a healthy Ben Simmons was cited as a potentially massive domino for the Eastern Conference playoffs. On the other end of things, the Utah Jazz are going to be at a severe disadvantage thanks to Bojan Bogdanovic’s season-ending surgery. Bogdanovic suffered the injury in November but managed to play through it for the bulk of the regular season. A few weeks ago, he opted for corrective surgery with his aim to be fully recovered for next season. Despite the injury, Bogdanovic was one of only two players in the NBA to average over 20 points while shooting 40-percent from three and 90-percent from the free-throw line. His absence will be impossible for the championship-hopeful Jazz to fill.

With 22 teams heading to Orlando for the resumption of the season, there are eight teams left to begin the off-season. The Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Golden State Warriors, and Minnesota Timberwolves will have an extended off-season. Considering the playoffs could extend into October and next year’s NBA regular season is expected to begin in December, having a long break off from basketball to rest and recover could prove to be a blessing for some of the lottery-bound teams poised to improve in the near future.

Most notably, the Golden State Warriors are looking at a massive bounce-back next season as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson from injury and Draymond Green likely returns to wanting to play basketball with effort. Mid-season pick-up Andrew Wiggins is also still around.  Plus, the Warriors have a potential top-five draft pick in this year’s Draft.  The Golden State Warriors were unwatchable for extended stretches this season. Still, there is every reason to expect a healthy Curry and Thompson, along with a motivated Green, to again lift the franchise to the ranks of the championship contenders in the Western Conference.

In the East, the Atlanta Hawks will have its young core receiving extended rest, while mid-season acquisition Clint Capela should be fully healthy following a battle with plantar fasciitis. Like the Warriors, the Hawks are likely going to add a high draft pick to its talented stable of players. Trae Young made an All Star as a sophomore. Big man John Collins continues to evolve into a versatile—and efficient—scorer. Kevin Huerter could be an offensive force with modest improvement in his percentages. Rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter look to be potential defensive difference makers with offensive upside. There is a lot to like about what is happening with the Hawks.