The NBA decided on a return-to-action plan that is expected to be ratified by team owners in a conference call on Thursday, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
There are many details that remain unclear, including how the league intends to protect their staff from COVID-19, but the intention to return is clear and concrete. The games will take place at The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, and the Raptors will be able to resume their title defence.
What the schedule looks like
The league will feature 22 teams in its conclusion to the 2019-20 season. That includes the 16 teams currently in postseason standing and an additional six teams within six games of the playoffs. Those six teams are Washington, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix and New Orleans.
The Raptors clinched their seventh-straight playoff appearance in March. Even in a worst-case scenario where they lose all eight regular season games, the Raptors would still fall no lower than sixth. However, their schedule is daunting as they will reportedly continue with their remaining regular-season slate minus the eight teams that weren’t invited, according to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.
Toronto’s remaining schedule could be as follows:
As for the playoff format itself, it appears everything will remain standard outside of the potential play-in tournament. Despite entertaining proposals of potentially reseeding No. 1 through No. 16 regardless of conferences, and an ambitious plan of group play similar to the World Cup, the playoffs will remain standard. The winner of the Eastern Conference will tackle the winner of the West.
The regular season will restart on July 31, and the last possible day of the playoffs will be on Oct. 12.
How the restart benefits the Raptors
For the Raptors, the main benefit of the extended layoff was the ability to rest. Between their last game on March 9 and the proposed restart on July 31, there will have been 143 days that passed. To put that into perspective, there were 130 days between Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals and Ring Night.
The extra offseason is a lifeline for the defending champions, who needed a chance to catch their breath. The Raptors had more total games lost to injuries than any other playoff team, with every member of the main rotation (outside of O.G. Anunoby) missing 11 or more games. It’s a testament to the resiliency of the team — and to the depth of the roster and quality of coaching — that the Raptors remain second in the East in spite of the circumstances.
— Man Games Lost NBA (@ManGamesLostNBA) March 14, 2020
The layoff gave players a chance to heal. Marc Gasol doubled up last summer by leading Spain to gold at the FIBA World Cup in China, but that set back his availability for the Raptors. Gasol played below his level at the start of the season, and missed time twice with a hamstring issue which limited him to 36 games. Norman Powell’s breakout year was undercut by a shoulder injury. Fred VanVleet dealt with hand and back issues. Pascal Siakam was ginger following a groin injury. The list goes on and on.
In terms of the format, the Raptors have less pressure to maximize the eight-game regular season. Toronto holds a 3.5 game lead on Boston for second and sit 6.5 games back of Milwaukee for first so there isn’t much to play for. That means the Raptors can ease into the schedule, almost in the same approach as a preseason, and load manage with the intention of being as fresh as possible starting in the playoffs.
How the restart disadvantages the Raptors
That being said, there are still drawbacks of the restart from the Raptors’ perspective. The layoff also gave Boston (Kemba Walker) and Philadelphia (Ben Simmons) the opportunity to recover, and Toronto’s remaining schedule is substantially harder than other contenders in the East. The Raptors face six opponents with a winning percentage of 60 or higher, as compared to only three for the Celtics.
The Raptors will have less time to prepare since roughly half of the roster, in addition to the majority of the staff, will be quarantined for two weeks once they cross the U.S. border. This isn’t exclusive to the Raptors since notable players like Luka Doncic (Slovenia) will also be travelling internationally, but Toronto being the only team outside of the United States will be delayed disproportionally. With only eight weeks until the start of the year, losing two weeks of training is substantial.
Otherwise, the main disadvantage is the loss of home-court advantage with games being held at a neutral location. As things stood, the Raptors would have had the advantage over every team other than the Bucks and the Clippers. There are discussions of teams pushing for compensation in the form of extra timeouts, coaching challenges, or even having first dibs on hotel locations, but that all seems trivial.
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