It's becoming clearer that professional sports leagues are gearing up to play whatever amounts to a season in the age of coronavirus. While the NFL still has most of its offseason ahead and baseball has only lost about a month so far, leagues like the NBA and NHL were blunted in the middle of their seasons. Financially, this is a much bigger issue for the NHL because it lacks the kind of huge TV deals other leagues have. But even when the NBA does finally return — to cavernous, empty stadiums — how long do they need to get ready and how much playing will be done?
For the Rockets, they appear to be in fairly good shape. The time off has no doubt helped players to heal up from the bruising they get during the season. Guys like Eric Gordon, who have struggled with nagging injuries, may even come back stronger.
Additionally, in modern pro sports, players don't typically get all that out of shape even in the offseason. Certainly, physical fitness won't be a big deal for them after six or eight weeks off.
Still, to get into a rhythm and game shape will take a bit of time. Players will need to get used to one another again and prepare for the physical toll of whatever remains of the season and playoffs. Figure teams will want a "training camp" or at least two weeks. Then, the league has to decide how many games get played before the postseason.
Most teams have played around 64 or 65 out of 82 games. The Rockets are at 64, it seems unlikely the league will finish out the full season. They would need at least a month to finish an 18-game regular season and if the league manages to get back to training in mid-May, that means playoffs starting in June, two months late. Normal playoffs typically take about six weeks, giving them an end in mid-August. It's not crazy, but that is very late considering free agency, the draft and the inevitable start of next season.
Probably more realistic would be a final ten games spread out over two-plus weeks. Playoffs could start in mid-June and abbreviated (five-game series in rounds one and two?) with the Finals perhaps before the end of July.
The Rockets are currently in the sixth seed but only one game out of the fourth seed and two-and-a-half from the third. No doubt, they will want as many opportunities to push their positioning higher. Ten games would give them ample chance to do so.
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Oddly, scheduling is likely to be the least of their worries. Arenas are shut down to large events and the only conflicts would be with teams who share the buildings with NHL teams.
But, logistics will be incredibly complex considering the health concerns of teams, their staff and league employees, never mind the media and others who will need to be in attendance at games. Assuming most of this has already been discussed and much of it decided, teams will have to hope they can get the all clear to resume training in the next two weeks. In some states like New York and California as well as for the Raptors in Canada, that may come much slower than other parts of the country, another reason teams may sequester in a few locations.
For the Rockets, they are in a state that is trying desperately to re-open, they manage their own building and shouldn't have much trouble getting their players back into the gym. Given their one-on-one style of play, it may even give them an advantage over teams that have lost momentum during the break.
At the moment, we just don't know when and how the NBA will get started again. But, it seems apparent the if has been eliminated and it's only a matter of time before the when is upon us.