Five thoughts recap: The Toronto Raptors and the NBA are returning to play

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Late last week the NBA Board of Governors and the NBA Players Association both approved Commissioner Adam Silver’s plan to resume the 2019-20 NBA season in Orlando, Florida.

We at Raptors HQ continue to be… uneasy, about talking hoops while there are so many more important things going on in the world. But for reasons that are both clear and depressing, this is coming, whether we want it or not. And so: it’s time for some thoughts the Orlando bubble tournament.

Let me get this out of the way first: The entire plan still seems very unsafe, and very risky, to me. That many people, indoors, playing sports, in a region that is seeing its COVID-19 cases spiking rather than plateauing or decreasing, just sounds like a recipe for disaster. Ultimately I think this is way too soon and in fact, I still think the NBA should cancel this season and simply aim to resume play with the 2020-21 season in October.

But that is not the plan. This is. So if we can, let’s put the safety question aside for now, and focus on the structure of this plan, who’s going to be there and how it might shake out on the court.

1. It’ll be Great to See a Healthy Raptors Team

It’s still amazing to me that the Raptors had the record they had when the season shut down, considering all of the injuries they had. Now, this break should have allowed all of the Raptors’ nagging injuries to fully heal, meaning — fingers crossed! — we should be seeing a fully healthy Raptors squad in Orlando. Nick Nurse is clearly excited about it too; the addition of a healthy Marc Gasol to the rotation is already giving him dreams of a jumbo lineup featuring Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby along with Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet.

I’ll tell you one thing I’m really looking forward to: Marc GAsol and Norman Powell sharing the court. Even dating back to last season, I felt there was good chemistry there; Gasol often seemed to find Powell open on the wing or on cuts, but of course, last year, Powell couldn’t hit a shot to save his life. This year, with Norm having his best season, he should benefit even more from Gasol’s passing, and hopefully the Raptors won’t seem so stagnant on offense anytime Lowry and Siakam are on the bench.

Obviously, injuries can still happen, and who knows how the players’ bodies will react to the layoff and being stuck at home. But if there’s any one huge plus to this entire goofy idea, it’s getting to see this team together one last time before free agency.

2. The Raptors Need to Lock up the Two-Seed

With their three-game lead on the third-seed Boston Celtics, the Raptors are in pretty good shape to finish with the second seed and play either Brooklyn or Orlando in the first round… but it’s far from a lock. It’s likely the Raptors and Celtics will play each other once in the remaining eight games, and the Celtics currently have a 2-1 season series lead, so that potential game matters a lot, both for overall record and for tie-breaker purposes.

Securing that second seed means avoiding Philadelphia or Indiana, the two teams battling for fifth and sixth. Philly in round one? No thanks. Even though I’m confident the Raptors can win that series (jacked Ben Simmons doesn’t worry me, sorry Sixers fans), they’ll likely come out of it battered and bruised, which isn’t what you want in the first round. And Indiana? They scare me too, with their size, and part of me feels like this three month layoff was probably really good for Victor Oladipo, who didn’t look great after his initial return from injury.

On the other hand, Brooklyn (without KD or Kyrie, and without a functional coach, either) and Orlando don’t scare me in the least.

3. 22 Teams is A Weird Number

Why not 20? The Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns are not making the playoffs. And they’re not even going to get close enough to trigger the play-in format. They’re just too far back, with eight games to play, to make that space up. And who really wants to see either of those teams play, besides their fans? Sure, there’s a chance Bradley Beal or Devin Booker goes off on any given night, but neither of these teams are League Pass darlings. 20 is a nice round number and it seems like those four current non-playoff teams in the West do have a chance to catch up to the eight seed.

I also think abandoning the idea of re-seeding without regard to conference standings is a missed opportunity here; the play-in idea could have been even more exciting in that scenario. Speaking of which…

4. The Play-In Idea Could Have Been So Much More

I like the idea of the play-in tournament, but it seems really limited here. With the two-teams-per-conference, double-elimination set-up, at most we’re gonna get four extra games, and since it’s unlikely the Wizards move up enough to hit the play-in threshold in the East, it’ll probably be one or two in the West.

Now, that could be a matchup between the Pelicans and Grizzlies, which would actually be pretty cool. Cool enough that this should be a best-of-three series, not a double-elimination mini-series. There’s always the potential for any one game to be a dud. Guaranteeing two means that teams have at least one game to make adjustments!

Ultimately, I know time is limited and the league can only play so many games in such a short time frame. But I think this could have been a much more exciting idea. Ultimately, this entire bubble experience is miles away from anything like a typical NBA season, so why not throw in some more experimentation, you know?

5. Give “Home” Playoff Teams One Extra Possession

Most of the ideas that aim to give some advantage to the higher-seeded teams either sound ridiculous (better hotel rooms?) or break the game too much (extra fouls). But I can get behind the idea of one extra possession for the “home” team once the playoffs start.

I think it’s simple enough: The “home” team — in other words, the higher seeded team in games 1, 2, 5, and 7 of a series, and the lower seeded team in games 3, 4, and 6 — gets possession at the start of both the third and fourth quarters. Whoever wins the tip gets the first quarter possession, and whoever loses the tip gets the opening second quarter possession.

So the home team always gets one extra possession, to “simulate” being at home, and the higher seeded team gets one more possession over the course of a series.

It’s a minor difference, and probably won’t make a real impact, but, in a close game, that possession could matter. I think that seems like a fair enough “homecourt advantage”, no?

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There’s still a lot to learn about the bubble tournament, including when the Raptors will gather and travel to Orlando, the actual schedule, and details on the safety protocols including thresholds for shutting down the league again, should enough positive tests occur. Hopefully we’ll get more details in the next couple of weeks — and hopefully, those details will put some of our worries to rest.