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NBA Playoffs Group Play isn’t just an option, it’s the only option

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The only way not to devalue the regular season is to allow for Group Play.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has a tentative plan for a return. Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN.com reported that the NBA is looking at turning the Magic Kingdom into the Hardwood Truman Show. Shams Charania of The Athletic explains that the NBA sent out a survey to NBA front offices that details the ways they could finish out the season more efficiently and get right into the playoffs. Damian Lillard today said he would not return to play games if his team didn’t have the chance to play in the playoffs. As the NBA looks at ways to return, it has to balance not delegitimizing the regular season while giving players a proper incentive to return to finish the season. There is a rumor that group play in the NBA Playoffs is gaining momentum. It may sound like a crazy idea, but it’s the only way that values player’s safety, provides incentive for teams to return, and makes the NBA Playoffs a helluva lot more fun.

Scenario 1: Go to playoffs. Directly to playoffs. Do not play any regular seasons games, do not collect regular season revenue.

The NBA would get right into the meat of the NBA playoffs. How the standings rested when the NBA paused their season will determine playoff seeding. This means that despite the Memphis Grizzlies appearing to run out of steam and the New Orleans Pelicans having the Zion Williams sized momentum, the Grizzlies would make it in and the Pellies are watching from home. The Portland Trail Blazers with Dame and CJ are sitting at home without a chance to make that late season push.

It devalues the regular season. Teams that had easy schedules to start out the year benefit as they conveniently escape the balancing factor of tougher games. The NBA could go this route and seed by Conferences or get a little crazy and seed 1-16 from the 8 teams from each conference. That scenario may make Western Conference bubble teams a bit salty as they’re only a game behind the #16 Orlando Magic and have played in a tougher Conference.

Scenario #2: Play out shortened season of 7 remaining games or all remaining games

This is the scenario that got Damian Lillard to say, “I’m going to be sitting right on that bench.”

It’d be hard to convince 100% lottery teams that have no chance of making the playoffs to return and play 18 games in a pandemic. It’d be even harder to convince bubble teams like the Pelicans, Wizards, Trail Blazers, Suns, and Spurs to do the same.

This option doesn’t necessarily devalue the regular season, but players sacrifice for returning. It’s a slap in the face. Put your bodies on the line in conditions not suited for a pandemic for a game check but no further reward. Play sacrificial lamb for another teams seeding purposes.

Seeding purposes is why anyone is crying foul about devaluing the regular season. They want the seeding to matter and have an apples to apples comparison with teams. So that’s when you realize Playoffs+ with a play in or group play is the smarter way to go. The playoff teams remain the same and with only 7 games there’s a high probability that seeding does not change.

Go to Playoffs+. Directly to Playoffs+. Do not play any regular seasons games, collect some regular season revenue.

There’s Hulu+, Disney+, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and now there could be NBA Playoffs+. NBA Playoffs+ is the same great playoffs you love, but with even MORE teams. There’s two different versions of Playoffs+. If your first reaction to this is peak Kombucha Girl, that’s okay. But the more you think about it, it’ll grow on you. Seriously. The result to this season is already going to have a big asterisk if a star player tests positive and has to quarantine himself out of a series. It already is going to have an asterisk due to the break and some guys getting healthy or some players getting hurt. The season is already devalued because a Pandemic happened. The NBA is already in uncharted waters so why are they still trying to use a map?

The NBA will soon see that Playoffs+—AND ONLY PLAYOFFS+—is the way. I have spoken.

How many more teams?

The first round of the playoffs would not include a team like Utah but instead could have the teams as far down as the 12 seed playing for their lives in a play in tournament. NBA front offices were asked whether they would prefer an additional 2, 4, 6, or 8(!) teams into the Playoffs+ scenario. Your first instinct is to only let the 9th seeds have a chance to get in. After all they were close. Four additional teams from each conference is crazy talk. WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER WANT TO SEE A TEAM AS BAD AS A 12TH SEED PLAYING IN A GAME???

Then it hits you.

You never got to see March Madness. That feeling of an overwhelming underdog upsetting a top seed? That itch hasn’t been scratched in over a year.

You never filled out a bracket. Didn’t get to irrationally fall in love with a team that prior to the game you knew nothing about. Cinderella didn’t just miss the ball this year, Cinderella never left the house.

That’s when you know. It’s time to embrace the chaos. If there’s going to be an asterisk on this season, let’s get our money’s worth out of this asterisk.

Scenario #3: Playoffs+ With Play In Games

If the league were to invite extra teams there is one of two ways they would allow these teams to duke it out. The first is through Play In Games. Similar to the NFL’s Wildcard week, these games could either be single elimination or they could make it a best of 3. They’re all in the same 5 mile bubble city. There’s no travel, so why not?

This is when you know that the NBA needs to go crazy. This boosts that feeling from “It’d be kinda cool” to “THIS MUST HAPPEN.” Once you see just through Play In Game that it can be incredibly satisfying and INSANELY entertaining, you may even ask yourself, “Why haven’t we done this sooner?”

Let’s go through how the Play In Games would work for each conference as you add more teams. These play in games would be for the chance to become the 8th seed. It’d be even more fun if they played the teams ranked 5-7 as well. But they’re not in the play in scenario. So here’s how it’d look to become the 8th seed.

[Conference Only Matchups = C, Seeding #1-Last = S]

Two Additional Teams

Conference Seeding

West 8 Seed

#8 Memphis Grizzlies vs #9 Portland Trail Blazers

East 8 Seed

#8 Orlando Magic vs #9 Washington Wizards

Seeding #1-#18

#15 Seed Play In

#15 Brooklyn Nets vs #18 Washington Wizards

#16 Seed Play In

#16 Orlando Magic vs #17 Portland Trail Blazers

Four Additional Teams

Conference Seeding

West 8 Seed

#8 Memphis Grizzlies play winner of:

#9 Portland Trail Blazers vs #10 New Orleans Pelicans

East 8 Seed

#8 Orlando Magic play winner of:

#9 Washington Wizards vs #10 Charlotte Hornets

Seeding #1-#20

#15 Seed Play In

#15 Brooklyn Nets play winner of

#18 New Orleans Pelicans vs #19 Washington Wizards

#16 Seed Play In

#16 Orlando Magic play winner of

#17 Portland Trail Blazers vs #20 Charlotte Hornets

Six Additional Teams

Conference Seeding

West 8 Seed

#8 Memphis Grizzlies vs #11 Sacramento Kings

#9 Portland Trail Blazers vs #10 New Orleans Pelicans

East 8 Seed

#8 Orlando Magic vs #11 Chicago Bulls

#9 Washington Wizards vs. #10 Charlotte Hornets

Seeding #1-#22

15 Seed Play In

#15 Brooklyn Nets vs #22 Chicago Bulls

#18 New Orleans Pelicans vs #19 Sacramento Kings

16 Seed Play In

#16 Orlando Magic vs #21 Charlotte Hornets

#17 Portland Trail Blazers vs #20 Washington Wizards

Additional 8 Teams

Conference Seedings

West 8 Seed

#8 Memphis Grizzlies Play Survivor Of

#9 Portland Trail Blazers vs #12 San Antonio Spurs

#10 New Orleans Pelicans vs #11 Sacramento Kings

East 8 Seed

#8 Orlando Magic Play Survivor of

#9 Washington Wizards vs #12 New York Knicks

#10 Charlotte Hornets vs #11 Chicago Bulls

Seeding #1-#24

* deep breath *

15 Seed Play In

#15 Brooklyn Nets Play Survivor of

#18 New Orleans Pelicans vs #23 Chicago Bulls

#19 Sacramento Kings vs #22 Charlotte Hornets

16 Seed Play In

#16 Orlando Magic Play Survivor of

#17 Portland Trail Blazers vs #24 New York Knicks

#20 San Antonio Spurs vs #21 Washington Wizards

NOW THAT’S SOME NBA ACTION

With just the Play In Scenario, the NBA resumes with some fireworks. After the exhibition of 4-5 games, teams are thrust instantly into games that matter. For teams that were quite possibly headed to the lottery, they get a chance to show that their late season improvement was not a fluke. Teams like the Pelicans, Kings, and Trail Blazers get a shot. If the games are all reseeded #1-#24, there’s a chance that not one but two Western Conference bubble teams that are WAY more deserving than the dredges of the Eastern Conference to play in games that matter. Likewise, there’s a chance for subpar teams to pull off some upsets and go on a run.

You feel that? That’s excitement. That’s the feeling of an NBA Playoff opening round that has some real intrigue and mystery.

Scenario #4: Playoffs+ with Group Play - 24 Teams

Now get ready because Playoffs+ really sings once you go ALL IN. Welcome to the future. Welcome to Group Play. We’re not even going to go through the scenarios of anything less than 24 teams because—FRANKLY—once you’ve arrived at a place in your life that you want to upend the entire nature of the NBA Playoff you’re entrenched.

Group play is using a format similar to the World Cup for soccer or FIBA. All teams are divided into equal pools (or groups) based on a round robin style favoring the best teams. Teams would be organized into pools by record. The lower the seed the harder the route out of your round. All teams play each other once in their respective pools. The toughest pool usually gets the moniker “Group of Death.” But I think the NBA could find a better nickname like Hardwood Hell or “Your broadcasters for this game will be Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson.” The top two or three (or four) teams advance out of each pool. Those remaining teams are re-seeded by regular season record and then it’s ON.

The NBA can throw 7 game series in this thing and let it roll. So how would that play out in the 24 teams bonanza? Glad you asked.

Group of Four

Each group has four teams. There are 6 groups. Two teams would most likely leave each stage with the top two seeds remaining getting a bye. In this scenario each group is first assigned a top seed: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers, Celtics, and Nuggets. Then using Round Robin select the groups are assigned opponents with the worst record starting with the Bucks and so forth. This allows the Bucks and Lakers to have the easiest path for getting out of the group stage and rewards them for their regular season performance. Using the top 12 teams from the East and West here’s the results.

Group of 4

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5 Group 6
Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5 Group 6
#1 Milwaukee Bucks #2 Los Angeles Lakers #3 Toronto Raptors #4 Los Angeles Clippers #5 Boston Celtics #6 Denver Nuggets
#12 Philadelphia 76ers #11 Indiana Pacers #10 Houston Rockets #9 Oklahoma City Thunder #8 Miami Heat #7 Utah Jazz
#18 New Orleans Pelicans #17 Portland Trail Blazers #16 Orlando Magic #15 Brooklyn Nets #14 Memphis Grizzlies #13 Dallas Mavericks
#24 New York Knicks #23 Chicago Bulls #22 Charlotte Hornets #21 Washington Wizards #20 San Antonio Spurs #19 Sacramento Kings

Group 1 is instantly going to be a must watch. Giannis, Zion, Embiid, Ingram, Holiday, and Simmons all battling it out? Oh and the Knicks are there. So the Bucks will all get one win at least. The Bucks are getting out of there, but between the Sixers and Pellies? I think the Pelicans have the pieces to pull off the upset and Holiday was part of the crew that upset the Blazers. Winners: Bucks, Pelicans.

Group 2 seems like it should be a cake walk for the Lakers and Pacers. Pacers have a healthy Victor Oladipo now. The Lakers have a rested LeBron and Anthony Davis. Should be easy for those two right? Wrong. Zach Collins and Jusif Nurkic are healthy now. This Blazers team could be ready to make a serious run. Dame’s last game in LA he scored 48 and got the win. That was with his team undermanned down low. With Nurkic, Collins, and Enes Kanter the Trail Blazers have a frontline that’s able to battle the Lakers large lineups. The Pacers already beat the Lakers once this year. Their lineup of Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner is another bad matchup for the Lakers. With the big break I’m getting old Utah Jazz vibes from 98-99 when it comes to LeBron. Lakers escape group play but it’s closer than people expected. Trail Blazers start a crazy run. Winners: Lakers, Trail Blazers.

Group 3 is MUCH easier than Group 1 and 2. Proof that all regular season wins are not equal... well... not when they’re not in the same conference. The Raptors and Rockets tear through the Magic and Hornets. Raptors go 3-0. Rockets go 2-1. Magic go 1-2. Hornets get wrecked. The Phoenix Suns watch from home while knowing they could have put up a better fight than the Knicks, Bulls, and Hornets. Winners: Raptors, Rockets.

Group 4 ups the ante by being the first group that could earn the Group of Death label. Clippers, Thunder, Nets, and Wizards. Both the Nets and Wizards were without their stars this season due to injury. Kevin Durant and John Wall have said that they won’t be coming back this season... but what if they did? Imagine John Wall lacing it back up and KD walking onto that floor. All of a sudden Group 4 is a nightmare for the Clippers and Thunder. Kyrie and KD could lay waste to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. John Wall and Bradley Beal could give the Thunder backcourt of Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander fits. Even assuming that Nets don’t get KD back, it took overtime for the Thunder to steal one from the Nets without Kyrie Irving and KD. There are a lot of reports that KD and Kyrie are thinking of lacing it up. Wizards’ John Wall most likely isn’t walking through that door. Winners: Clippers, Nets.

Group 5 is intriguing. I don’t see anyone but the Celtics and the Heat getting out of that group due to the playoff head coaching experience of Brad Stevens and Erik Spoelstra, but you got Baby Grit-n-Grind and the Spurs with Coach Pop. Spurs playoff streak is STILL ALIVE. The Spurs in the playoffs are a scary matchup regardless of who is on the roster. The Spurs were 1-1 against the Celtics and Heat. There is a potential for upsets. I just don’t see it happening. Winners: Celtics, Heat.

Group 6 is a nightmare, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see the Utah Jazz as a part of it. This is the Group of Death. Hardwood Hell. Peach-Basket Purgatory. Nuggets, Jazz, Mavs, and Kings. Nuggets returning to the playoffs after disappointment last year. Jazz undermanned without Bojan Bogdanovic. Mavs with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis but down Dwight Powell. Sacramento Kings come into this with Marvin Bagley III healthy again. Everyone will suffer in this group. Jazz were winless against the Nuggets. Mavericks were winless against the Jazz. Mavericks were 2-1 against the Nuggets. Kings were 2-2 agains the Jazz and snuck a win from both the Nuggets and Mavericks. So who escapes this nightmare? Winners: Nuggets, Jazz.

Here are your matchups but the playoffs would be weird as there’s only 12 teams. If you let 18 teams get through it’s still messy.

#1 Bucks vs. #18 New Orleans Pelicans

#2 Los Angeles Lakers vs #17 Portland Trail Blazers

#3 Toronto Raptors vs #15 Brooklyn Nets

#4 LA Clippers vs #10 Houston Rockets

#5 Boston Celtics vs #8 Miami Heat

#6 Denver Nuggets vs #7 Utah Jazz

Group of 6

The group of 6 gets wilder. This makes for a cleaner break right into a traditional playoff format of the top 16 teams. It’s almost like the NBA was made for this. In this scenario the top 4 teams progress to the next round. In a Group of Six, you can even call the Group of Death “The Sinister Six”. IT’S MADE FOR THIS MOMENT.

Group of Six

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
#1 Milwaukee Bucks #2 Los Angeles Lakers #3 Toronto Raptors #4 Los Angeles Clippers
#8 Miami Heat #7 Utah Jazz #6 Denver Nuggets #5 Boston Celtics
#12 Philadelphia 76ers #11 Indiana Pacers #10 Houston Rockets #9 Oklahoma City Thunder
#16 Orlando Magic #15 Brooklyn Nets #14 Memphis Grizzlies #13 Dallas Mavericks
#20 San Antonio Spurs #19 Sacramento Kings #18 New Orleans Pelicans #17 Portland Trail Blazers
#24 New York Knicks #23 Chicago Bulls #22 Charlotte Hornets #21 Washington Wizards

Group 1 seems designed to get Pop back into the playoffs so the Spurs don’t end the playoff streak on Pop’s watch. Honestly, that’s the way it should be. Magic and Knicks seem like the teams destined to get knocked out of this group. Bucks, Heat, and Sixers will be a blast to watch but they’re all moving on. Winners: Bucks, Heat, 76ers, Spurs.

Group 2 gets tougher. The Utah Jazz find themselves stacked against the Lakers, Pacers, and Kings that have frontlines designed to give the undersized and now undermanned Utah Jazz trouble. It’s sad to say if there’s an upset in this group, it’s Utah. Utah has to find a way to battle against large lineups with only Royce O’Neale, Georges Niang, Juwan Morgan, and Jarrell Brantley. Jazz find a way to pull it off. Winners: Lakers, Jazz, Pacers, Nets.

Group 3 is a nightmare for Houston. Every single team in this Group save for the Hornets has a mobile big man made for the modern NBA. The Rockets won’t be able to run a team running large 4s and 5s out of the gym. Instead they will matchup against Pascal Siakam, Nikola Jokic, Jaren Jackson Jr, and Zion Williamson. Houston could be the first upset in this scenario as a result. But my pick is for the Baby Grizz to run out of steam. Winners: Raptors, Nuggets, Rockets, Pelicans.

Group 4 is pure nightmare fuel. PG and Kawhi. Kemba, Jayston Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. Doncic and Porzingis. Dame and McCollum. CP3 and SGA. And potentially John Wall and Bradley Beal. I literally have no idea what happens in this group. There’s a totally possible scenario where the Clippers don’t make it out. Or the Celtics. Or the Mavericks. Or the Trail Blazers. Or the Thunder. I’m going to go with my gut and say the Thunder don’t make it out and CP3’s magic runs out. Dame and McCollum move on with a powered up frontline now that Collins and Nurkic are back. Wizards make life tough for everyone, but they don’t make the cut. Hayward doesn’t call Gail. Winners: Clippers, Celtics, Mavericks, Trail Blazers.

2019-2020 Sweet 16

I declined to go into detail on the last one because it’s not as fun and as gratifying. THIS ONE? OMG OMG OMG OMG. This one is so much fun. You’ll soon see why the NBA needs to do this every year.

#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs #20 San Antonio Spurs

This is a sweep. Pop will spend the series ribbing whoever is the sideline reporter because they’ll be doing the commercial interviews via zoom. He’ll bemoan that they’re there at all because there are bigger problems in the world. He’ll get off a few jabs at Trump. His team will play hard but the Bucks won’t face any resistance.

#2 Los Angeles Lakers vs #18 New Orleans Pelicans

The best matchup of the 1st round. LeBron and Anthony Davis vs everyone traded for Anthony Davis. Zion is back and healthy. Favors is back and healthy. Jrue Holiday is ready for another series with playoff heroics. Brandon Ingram is ready to show LeBron James that he’s ready for the big show. The Lakers swept the Pelicans in the regular season but the final two games with Zion required the Lakers to need strong 4th quarters to put the Pellies away. This time the Pellies become self-aware. They push the Lakers to 6 games. Lakers escape but the series will take its toll.

#3 Toronto Raptors vs #17 Portland Trail Blazers

UPSET UPSET UPSET! The Trail Blazers would be a nightmare if the NBA finds a way to allow a play in game or group play. PDX would finally be healthy. Their regular season record wouldn’t mean a thing as they’re a completely different team with Collins and Nurkic back in the lineup. The Raptors are playing the equivalent of a top 4 seed in the West. Dame and McCollum beat Toronto in six. The Raptors without their homecourt advantage are the first victim of this belated playoffs.

#4 LA Clippers vs #15 Brooklyn Nets

KD comes back. Kyrie comes back. The Brooklyn Nets get a preview of their full squad a year early. Caris LaVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen are ready to play spoiler. Steve Balmer has to watch from his giant mansion in California. Not because he wouldn’t want to self-isolate in the bubble city of Disney World, but because Steve Balmer wouldn’t stop riding the rides. Nets almost upset the Clippers in 7 games as KD just isn’t back to his top form. Clippers breathe a sigh of relief.

#5 Boston Celtics vs #13 Dallas Mavericks

The Celtics beat the Mavericks in 5 games and dispassionately. Smart’s defense on Doncic gives Luka nightmares all offseason. Tatum and Kemba average 20 each. Gordon Hayward fills in all the gaps. Kristaps shrinks as the Mavs are unable to fill the hole that Dwight Powell left at Center.

#6 Denver Nuggets vs #12 Philadelphia 76ers

Nuggets have all the experts pick against them. 76ers fans on Twitter barrage the team before the series on how they’re overmatched. Here’s the easiest upset to pick in series play. Ben Simmons is back, but no one knows if he’s 100%. Embiid and Simmons can’t get on the same page. Jokic, the based god, puts on a show. Nuggets trot out big man after big man to match up with the 76ers large lineups. Nuggets sweep the 76ers. 76ers fans blame Donovan Mitchell.

#7 Utah Jazz vs #11 Indiana Pacers

Jazz fans will not like this prediction. I don’t like this prediction. The Jazz get upset. Pacers present a nightmare matchup for Utah. Utah may have stole one from them in group play, but it required a big game from Niang. This time in series play, there’s no 2020 version of Kyrylo Fesenko. Sabonis goes ham with undersized fours like Royce O’Neale, Niang, and Ingles guarding him. Oladipo and Brogdon lock up Conley and Mitchell. Turner is overmatched by Gobert but Gobert can’t guard 5 players at once. Jazz fall in this matchup in 6 games.

#8 Miami Heat vs #10 Houston Rockets

The Miami Heat because Bam Adebayo plays out of his mind with Robert Covington playing the five. Jimmy Butler does what Jimmy does best: talk trash and win. James and Russell play well but their defense is terrible. The long break has weakened Houston’s communication on the defensive end. Spoelstra outcoaches Mike D’Antoni. Jimmy Butler gets another iconic “He’s soft” press conference highlight.

ELITE 8

#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs #8 Miami Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks find themselves in a very physical series. Jimmy gets buckets and puts this team on his back. He soon runs out of juice by game 5. Giannis shows why he’s the best player in the NBA and crushes the Heat in six games. Lopez proves to be the key as he stretches Bam out of the paint.

#2 Los Angeles Lakers vs #11 Indiana Pacers

The Lakers find themselves out of sorts as the Pacers seem specifically designed to take them out. They’re hard-nosed, defensive minded and Victor Oladipo is now playing at his pre-injury All-Star level. Lakers already drained by the Pelicans get wrapped up in a seven game series. They pull away in the seventh game as Frank Vogel is able to lead his current team past his former team. Pays to have LeBron James on your side rather than against it.

#17 Portland Trail Blazers vs #6 Denver Nuggets

THE TRAIL BLAZERS STRIKE AGAIN. Denver runs into a Trail Blazers team playing with house money. They were not supposed to have a chance at the playoffs, let alone a chance at having their key frontline players back. With Collins and Nurkic back, they neutralize Jokic thanks to Nurkic’s familiarity with the Joker from their days together in Denver. McCollum and Dame put on a show while Gary Harris and Jamal Murray struggle to match their production. Paul Millsap has a special game but another disappointing end to the season as Dame Time says the Blazers are late to their appointment with the Lakers in the Final Four. Blazers take it in six games.

#4 LA Clippers vs #5 Boston Celtics

The Clippers after having a close call with the suddenly rejuvenated Brooklyn Nets enter their matchup with the Celtics completely focused. Their additional games allowed them to get in better defensive rhythm. Patrick Beverly is amped and ready to shut down Kemba. Paul George is locked in. Kawhi is just Kawhi. Tatum and Kemba try carrying the team but Brown and Hayward disappear. Clippers take out the Celtics in 5 games. They are on another level.

Final Four

#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs #4 LA Clippers

This matchup becomes the stuff of legends. Giannis is looking to get his first championship. Paul George is wanting to make his first NBA Finals. Kawhi has a hard 10:15PM appointment to be home in time for Grub Hub to deliver Panera. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Giannis and Kawhi battle this out. Each averages 30 points a game. PG and Middleton average 22. The key to the game comes down to an X-Factor. Enter Lou Williams. He isn’t a big contributor until Game 4. His play turns the series. Clippers win in 7 games. Kawhi is going back to the NBA Finals.

#17 Portland Trail Blazers vs #2 Los Angeles Lakers

Dame Time finally strikes midnight. Portland steals game 1 and appears ready to continue their magical run. LeBron gives one word answers post game. He’s taking this hard. He looks steel eyed through his greying stay at home beard. LeBron comes back the next four games and it wouldn’t matter if he had Anthony Davis on his squad or not. He becomes MVP LeBron. Dame and CJ can’t keep up. Collins and Nurkic can no longer protect the paint. The run is over. Lakers win in 5.

THE BATTLE FOR L.A.

What better way for this experiment to go than an NBA Finals that wouldn’t be possible had this format not been allowed? The Lakers play the Clippers. Fitting that now they play in a shared arena for the championship. Unfortunately, it’s not as exciting as we all hope for. LeBron is tired. The off time got his body out of rhythm. The matchups leading up to this ran him down. He’s feeling like the Karl Malone after facing the upstart Sacramento Kings in the playoffs after the shortened season. The Clippers have the benefit of depth, talent, AND youth on their side. The Lakers still make a couple games interesting after going down 3-0. They win two straight and there’s some feeling of a comeback. Kawhi shuts that down without emotion and the Clippers win their first NBA Championship. Balmer spends $100 Billion so he can build a street in LA big enough to hold a championship parade while social distancing.

Playoffs+ and Group Play is the only way

Wasn’t that exciting? It has intrigue. It opens the door for unseen outcomes. It values the regular season by allowing the playoffs to be properly seeded through teams earning their seeds. It allows players to be rewarded for putting their bodies on the line during these tumultuous times. It prevents the NBA from having to bring NBA teams that have no ability to make the playoffs from having to spend additional resources and open themselves up to unforeseen liabilities if—heaven forbid—someone contracts the virus from that team and dies from doing their job.

It does require bringing on some dregs of the Eastern Conference. While most would prefer the top 24 teams, in order to value the Conference order before this whole thing, it makes sense to bring the top 12 of each conference. Will there be some purists who are frustrated by this model? Of course. But there’s nothing normal about this season.

Normal ended when Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive for COVID19. Normal ended when the NBA shut its doors and postponed the season indefinitely.

Normal ended when deaths related to COVID19 surpassed 100,000.

Normal does not exist right now. The Playoffs+ with Group Play format is not crazy. It’s the only way the NBA can return that makes sense at a time when normal is not an option.