The NBA is happening after all

After months of uncertainty surrounding sports and whether or not they would return, the National Basketball Association has officially announced a return to the scene in the form of a continuation of the 2019-2020 season. Currently, it’s slated to run from July 31 to no later than Oct. 12 of this year.

Twenty-two teams have been invited to Orlando, Florida to play a series of seeding games amongst themselves. The only teams excluded (Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers) were the eight bottom teams that have severely unrealistic chances of making the playoffs from their current position in the standings. Each remaining team will play eight games against the various other invited teams to settle the final playoff standings.

The playoff setup is almost entirely the same as usual. The top seven teams from each conference is guaranteed a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the last spot is up for grabs. If the ninth seed team is within four games of the eighth seed, then a best-of-two series would take place. If the ninth seed can take both games from the eighth seed, they would make it to the playoffs instead.

This is an unprecedented occurrence and leaves a lot of questions to be answered about whether or not it’s safe or even a good idea to continue. The NBA insists that they have set up appropriate protocols by working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts, and government officials. This of course includes regular testing for the players as well. They have said nothing about masks but say they will adhere to “stringent safety practices.”

COVID-19 aside, it is exciting to see how teams will be able to continue their success or recover from a lack thereof when the season resumes. Six teams in the Western Conference, separated by six games, will be fighting for the final playoff spot. They have just eight games to prove themselves as a team worthy of competing.

From there, though, it’s an entirely new beast. The star-studded Los Angeles Lakers boast a 49-14 record in the West, a full five and a half games ahead of the second place Los Angeles Clippers. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been averaging 25 and 26 points per game. Dwight Howard looks closer to his prime form than he ever has. They’re rounded out by Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee, all players who have shown brilliance in the past.

Their main competition is the Milwaukee Bucks from the East. “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo has averaged 30 points and just under 14 rebounds per game as a one-man army. His backup isn’t nearly as impressive, with the second-best player on the team being Khris Middleton. Also present are perennial role players George Hill, Wesley Matthews, Brook Lopez and Kyle Korver.

To keep it close to home, the Portland Trail Blazers were watching their hopes slowly slip away before the season was interrupted. Now, they have a chance to fight back. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are the stars of the show, averaging a total of 50 points per game between the two of them. Now 35-year-old Carmelo Anthony is looking the best he has in years, while Hassan Whiteside is averaging a cool 16 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks. They definitely have the talent if they can catch up to the Memphis Grizzlies in their final eight games.

It’s great to see sports finally on the horizon, but one question remains to be answered. With such a late finish to the season, potentially overlapping the time the season usually starts, what does this mean for the 2020-21 NBA season? If everything goes according to plan, the NBA is looking at a Dec. 1 start this year. Maybe the next season is shorter as a result. Either way, I’m just happy sports are back.