On Friday, the NBA Player’s Association approved the 22-team format proposed by the league and approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and many other reporters. The plan, of course, is convoluted to a degree that is indicative of the unprecedented circumstances the league finds itself dealing with amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For one, the plan is designed to have the 22 invited teams play in eight regular season games — a number that is far from random, as it will enable each of its regional markets to secure the financial benefits of airing 70+ NBA games. The plan also includes a first-ever play-in tournament between the 8-seed and 9-seed in each conference, should they be within 4 games of one another at season’s end.
Some other scheduling nuggets:
Sources: Additional dates NBA informed on Board of Governors call:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 4, 2020
- June 15, players located internationally return to market
- June 21, all players report
- June 22, coronavirus testing begins https://t.co/kFZajb3Ioz
The approved dates seem malleable and are expected to adjust with time and new information. But upon first glance, some questions arise: if Game 7 of the Finals is scheduled for October 12, does the league really plan for just a month and a half between seasons? Why 22 teams instead of 20? Who exactly was dying to see the 24-40 Washington Wizards and the 26-39 Phoenix Suns compete for the postseason?
But from a Sixers prospective, let’s take a look at how the approved plan both helps and hurts the team in its quest to end a maddeningly inconsistent season with the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Con: The Sixers Suck in Orlando
In this column a few weeks ago, I chronicled the Sixers ineptitude in Orlando. It’s not pretty. To reiterate: historically, in Orlando, the Sixers are 14-45. I hate to rub it in, but that’s a lot more losses than wins. This year’s Sixers lost both games in Orlando. It’s possible that the players have been too distracted by the attractions in Disney World to adequately focus on basketball — a problem rendered moot during a global pandemic. But still, not great.
Before you head down to the comment section: I know. I know that using the words ‘Sixers’ and ‘Health’ and ‘Optimism’ in the same sentence is not only unheard of, but a level of sacrilege sure to irreparably jinx the team and its most important players. Do not worry. Before typing this paragraph, I doused myself in holy water, said the shama, and confessed my prior and future sins. I think we’re in the clear.
For a team that has seldom been meaningfully healthy in recent years, the four-month sabbatical taken by the league could really behoove the Sixers, and give them an opportunity to see just how ‘built for the playoffs’ the full roster really is.
Most notably, point guard Ben Simmons has now had ample time to non-surgically heal the nerve impingement in his back in time for the playoffs — a reality that seemed highly unlikely on the league’s standard schedule.
Joel Embiid, of course, will forever be an injury risk. The four months off will merely give the big man more than enough time to come back full strength from the shoulder sprain he sustained on February 26. Embiid had already returned to action prior to the shutdown, but the team’s checkered past of overextending rehabbing players clouds the possibility that the center was actually 100 percent when he took the court again.
Al Horford is another Sixer who could benefit from the time off. The Sixers’ dubious offseason signee just turned 34, and as a player with a history of knee soreness, one would hope that four months off could do a lot to rejuvenate Horford for the stretch run with fresh legs. I’m particularly low on the Horford signing and his fit with the team’s two young stars, but one would think that the one — and possibly only — way to view this team’s true potential is with the most healthy and rested version of the roster possible.
Con: No Home Games
This season, the Sixers are 29-2 at home, and 10-24 on the road. They have the best home record, and worst away record (of playoff teams) in the league. I did some research, and sources say that if every game from here on out is played in Orlando, precisely zero games will be played at home. That’s suboptimal to say the least, for the Sixers.
Pro: Cushy Regular Season Schedule
According to Jacob Goldstein, the Sixers have the friendliest discrepancy between their remaining schedule as compared to the modified schedule the team is likely to play over an eight game span.
Here is that projected eight game regular season conclusion, per former Liberty Baller Sixers Adam:
If this is accurate, #Sixers schedule will look like...— adam aaronson #BLM (@SixersAdam) June 3, 2020
I’d imagine that’s about as good of a draw as a team could ask for. https://t.co/lE1bHaNCEg
Of course, if this season taught us anything it’s that there is no team too good for the Sixers to beat, and no game too ‘easy on paper’ for the Sixers to drop. The team consistently played down to their competition all year, but still, the team should see a reasonable path to climb above Indiana to compete against Miami rather than Boston in the first round, if that’s what they prefer.
Unknown: Joel Embiid’s Stamina
The real question that will determine whether or not the Sixers are able to make a run in the postseason is what kind of shape is Joel Embiid going to be in? Conditioning has been the center’s bugaboo, when he’s healthy, and basically the only thing keeping him from cementing his status as a top-5 player in the NBA. In the past, Embiid has talked openly about how hard he’s found it to keep his stamina up while he’s not playing basketball games. It’s no secret among anyone in the Sixers universe that four months off for Embiid — while they could aid his injury status — could be a detriment to his fitness base. We will see whether or not Embiid, Brett Brown and the rest of the Sixers staff were able to devise a workout plan effective enough to keep the big guy in shape for when the games really count.
Last week, a few of us here at Liberty Ballers came together to contribute a donation to Campaign Zero, in an effort to lend our voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Following the lead of our friends @TheGoodPhight, we at Liberty Ballers have come together to collectively donate to Campaign Zero, in support of their fight for massive criminal justice reform.— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) June 5, 2020
We ask that other sites and our readers join us. #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/y0cpP9EqoD
Here are links to just a few of the other causes that deserve your time and attention: