The NBA is all set to go. When it does, it will be the third time since the NBA/ABA-Merger that the regular season will be abbreviated. The other two times? Lockout years in 1999 and 2011-12.
What's interesting about those years is the team that ended up on top. In 1999, it was Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs who won the first of five titles.
In 2012, it was LeBron James who, as Mike Breen so poetically put it, "captured that elusive title."
Is there a reason those two were able to start their dynasties during shortened seasons or is it just a mere coincidence? Let's look at the elements of winning a championship. After all, doing it once gives confidence that it can be repeated.
The Spurs were run out of the building by the Jazz in the 1998 playoffs but more or less cruised through the Western Conference the following year (thanks in part to one Sean Elliot).
However, the Jazz, led by 1999 MVP Karl Malone stumbled to a younger, more athletic, Portland Trail Blazers squad. This paved the way for the Spurs to avoid facing the reigning Western Conference Champs.
The Heat, on the other hand, found themselves facing a star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder team that knocked off a couple of ageing squads themselves. The problem for OKC? They didn't quite have the experience to go all the way. LeBron was determined and despite losing Game 1 in Oklahoma; James, Wade, and Bosh went on to win the next four.
In other words, be young but not too young. Had the 2012 Heat faced the Spurs or Bulls (with a healthy Derrick Rose) that season, LeBron's "decision" to join his super friends may have faced more scrutiny.
Maybe it was destiny. Or maybe the shortened season caused a bit of a shakeup in seeding and playoff matchups were different as a result.
Take a look at this season. The Rockets are seeded Sixth and even considering the best-case scenario, they are unlikely to finish above the Fourth seed. It's certainly possible that the same team could have finished in the top-2 or 3 if the season had played on as originally scheduled. Finishing in the 4-6 slot means they likely avoid the Clippers early on with a potential matchup not until the Conference Finals.
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Fast forward, and this might allow the other LA team to get to its first NBA Finals and give Kawhi a shot to be the first player to win Finals MVP for three different teams.
Possible Advantage: Clippers, Bucks.
2. Injuries and Rest
A healthy Patrick Ewing in the 1999 NBA Finals could have changed the state of New York Knicks basketball for an entire generation. Instead, we saw the Spurs utilize the power of the Twin Towers provided by Duncan and David Robinson.
The 1999 and 2011-12 seasons permitted a young San Antonio Spurs and an athletic Miami Heat team to rebound off short rest days relatively quickly. Add the Spurs and Heat, who matched up a few years later in the 2014 NBA Finals, to an abbreviated season and you might see the impact of fewer off-days take a toll.
Rest alone shouldn't be an issue this year as the NBA and NBPA have done an excellent job scheduling games. The unknown is the impact the Coronavirus will have on players. We may not have typical injuries but the Lakers have already seen star guard Avery Bradley take precautions to protect himself and his family. Collectively, with the possibility of an outbreak, there might be more unexpected absences.
Players in street clothes is never positive but unfortunately always a factor. It's unclear if we'll see this issue play out in the shortened season this time around.
Possible Advantage: TBD.
3. Star Power
The NBA is a star-driven league. Period. And maybe deservingly so. Win, lose or draw (not literally), teams rely on the main guy to deliver. With so much pressure, sometimes it's easier to thrive when it's so new and you don't have time to react to the pomp and circumstance.
David Robinson dominated the West in 1995, taking home the MVP before he got … bamboozled.
Game 1, WCF 1995: David Robinson takes home the MVP hardware but Hakeem stole the show. @HoustonRockets 94, @Spurs 93 pic.twitter.com/ASajRvaQZp- NBA History (@NBAHistory) May 2, 2017
It's uncertain if he would have had vivid memories of the Dream Shake haunt him for subsequent playoff runs. Enter Tim Duncan.
Only in his second season, but certainly not too accustomed to losing. By the time Duncan realized how far his team had gotten, he was probably already holding the Larry O'Brien trophy in Madison Square Garden.
Two young stars seem obvious to make the splash akin to Timmy D. Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both are MVP contenders this year and fan favourites. If these two are able to avoid early-round upsets, they might be able to break through their respective conferences and burst the bubble of the other front-runners.
There's also the curious case of Jimmy Butler. He's a legitimate standout star that has an unmatched work ethic. He was literally a few bounces away from taking the 76ers to the Eastern Conference Finals last season before some "fun guy" ruined it.
Now, with a new team, a new coach, and even more time to work out, he might have all he needs to rise above the competition.
Possible Advantage: Mavericks, Bucks, and Heat.
There is no guarantee that one team will adapt better than another. There is only the guarantee that skeptics will try and diminish the accomplishments we see over the next few weeks and months. In hindsight, those voices get tuned out. No one questions LeBron's first championship now. It's not "LeBron really only has 2.5 titles."
There is no retort that Tim Duncan only has 4.5 championships. He's right up there with Kobe as the winner of five NBA titles and in discussions for the greatest player of his generation.
Regardless of who wins, they should be considered a star and not an anomaly. The potential asterisk associated with this season will be an easy qualifier and an excuse for haters. However, an asterisk is really just a digital star and what better way for a star to be born than in Walt Disney World, inside a bubble.
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