Whatever one thinks of the NBA has been consistent. On March 18, a week after the shutdown started, commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that the league would “try by every means we can to play basketball again,” adding that games would be played only when public health officials say it is safe and possibly without fans in attendance., it is worth pointing out that the
As strange as it sounds, it’s time to get used to the idea of Disney World soon. It is also time to start thinking about present-day basketball again, rather than ’90s nostalgia. Here are eight big on-court questions heading into the stretch run, whatever that looks like:
1. What’s the Clippers’ killer lineup?
The Los Angeles Clippers‘ first five months shouldn’t discourage any of us who picked them to win the title. In the playoffs, they should be even better: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will play big minutes every night, and the roster’s depth gives Doc Rivers’ coaching staff the ability to make meaningful adjustments.
If there’s any lingering doubt, it is about how Rivers will use that depth. When the Clippers find themselves in a tough spot, who will be on the floor with Leonard and George? Their other three starters before the shutdown were Patrick Beverley, Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac, and while that lineup was awesome (net rating: plus-19.4), it has only logged 124 minutes over eight games.
Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell often close games, but they’re not the duo you want defending pick-and-rolls in high-stakes situations. Landry Shamet is another option to consider, as is going small with Morris or JaMychal Green at center. This kind of versatility is practically a prerequisite for competing for a championship, but in the Clippers’ case it can also make things complicated.
2. Are the Bucks meaningfully different than they were last season?
I feel like I have written variations of the same Milwaukee Bucks take a million times: They are undeniably one of the best regular-season teams ever, but their margin for error will be smaller in the playoffs, just like it was in 2018-19.
Skeptics can easily rattle off the rationale for betting against this juggernaut. The half-court offense is vulnerable when Giannis Antetokounmpo is facing double-teams and their best shooters aren’t getting clean looks. The half-court defense is vulnerable when opposing bigs are making 3s. Will Eric Bledsoe make the defense pay for completely ignoring him on the perimeter? Khris Middleton and George Hill can’t possibly keep this up, can they?
The pro-Bucks argument, however, is just as straightforward: They came extremely close to taking a 3-0 lead in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and statistically they’ve improved in Year 2 of the Mike Budenholzer era, even without Malcolm Brogdon. Antetokounmpo is a year wiser, and has made progress as a facilitator. If he is more prepared and Milwaukee is a bit luckier than last year, maybe that will be enough.
3. Is the Lakers’ offense playoff-ready?
My concerns about the Los Angeles Lakers are similar to the ones I have about Milwaukee, and they’re easier to explain using regular-season stats. In 2019-20, Los Angeles is 15th in half-court offense, per Cleaning The Glass. Its ability to get stops and run has obscured its extreme dependence on LeBron James‘ playmaking and the fact that it doesn’t shoot 3s particularly well or often.