Live basketball is back on our screens and I couldn’t be happier. The NBA has once again proved itself, sliding ahead of all the other prominent American sports (and arguably the Premier League too) with its handling of how to safely play through the rest of the season and provide a great product to the fans.
The best post-COVID viewing experience?
The creation of the Orlando ‘bubble’, situated in Disney World, has created a more controlled environment for the safety of the players, coaches, journalists and team staffs. But the NBA have also curated a better viewing experience. Unlike in football and baseball, there is no jarring absence of real fans, laid bare by the vast swathes of empty stadium seats. The court is instead surrounded by screens showing the logos of the ‘home team’, players, animations and perhaps showing certain fans celebrating at home. Thanks to the current friendly scrimmages, the NBA is able to experiment: crowd noise hasn’t been siphoned into all games and there are rumours of crowd noise which responds to social media with zero latency being used; and some live commentating being done via Zoom and some live from the sidelines as usual. The little things are also proving successful: there was some concern over the viewers being able to hear players or coaches on court, calling out plays, swearing, trash-talking etc.; but, from my viewing experience it has proved to walk the line perfectly. You can’t hear what the players and coaches don’t want you to, but you can still hear players calling an and-one, Melo’s patented “GET THE F*** OUTTA HERE” rebounds and other things which add to the energy of the game.
So far, the NBA has nailed its post-COVID return, standing above other professional sports with a safe resumption of the season and games unhindered by its changes.
Dark Horse Trailblazers
The Portland Trailblazers were plagued with injuries throughout this season, losing Jusuf Nurkić (the team’s 3rd best player and defensive nucleus) late last regular season to a fractured tibia and fibula, with Zach Collins and Rodney Hood (the team’s young up-and-coming power forward and most reliable 3-and-D respectively) both suffering serious injuries at the start of this season. In spite of the MVP-level contributions from superstar guard (and rapper) Damian Lillard, the ever-reliable contributions of C.J. McCollum and a resurging Carmelo Anthony, the Blazers only eked out a 29-37 record.
Yet with the season’s extended COVID caused hiatus, the injured Blazers have been able to rest and recuperate and are now healthy enough to play in the NBA’s Orlando bubble season finale (except for Rodney Hood and his torn Achilles tendon). This is a scary team. When Nurkić was healthy and in tandem with Lillard last season they put up a godly offensive rating of 119.2 and 10.8 net rating (for context: this season’s best team, the Milwaukee Bucks, had 112.3 and 20.7 offensive and net ratings), and Nurk looks to be back in good form, scoring 14 points on 6 of 10 attempts, including a post-up bucket over Indiana’s JaKarr Sampson by dipping into his bag of post-moves and to demonstrate the still thriving Lillard-Nurkić chemistry, a glorious hit-ahead Lillard pass to the streaking Bosnian beast for an easy 2 points.
Last year we saw Portland stomp out the Oklahoma City Thunder and suffocate the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, and that was without Nurkić! So, if the Blazers can put it all together and reinvigorate their 2018-19 season push as one of the NBA’s best teams they’re not a matchup the #1 seeded L.A. Lakers want in the first round, especially with the Laker’s depleted guard line-up.