7 for 6: Bubble edition

| The NBA is back, and stranger than ever |

Professional basketball is set to resume at the Walt Disney World Result in Orlando on July 30. 22 NBA teams will compete in an additional eight regular season games in order to complete the regular season that was suspended amidst the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11th. The top seven teams in each conference will be guaranteed playoff spots for the playoffs. The Sixers currently sit in sixth place in the East.

Things get interesting for the final seed in each conference. If, after these final eight games, the eight seed in each conference is more than four games ahead of the ninth seed, they will clinch a spot. If ahead by less than four games, the eighth and ninth seed would play a first-to-two-wins series for the final playoff spot. The NBA Finals would end no later than October 12th.

The format and venue is unlike anything we’ve seen in NBA history, much less professional sports. Players are isolated in three separate hotels and are constantly being tested for the coronavirus. To the NBA’s credit, their extensive plan seems to have paid off.  The league as a whole reported zero positive cases out of 346 tests from July 13th to July 20th. Initially, this seems to be working.

The players don’t have it too bad either. It’s akin to a college campus, albeit a tightly controlled on. There are game rooms, golf courses, and even restaurants open to the players. Matisse Thybulle is making videos about the experience in the bubble.  They are uploaded to his new Youtube channel.

As it relates to the actually basketball and specifically the Sixers, Philadelphia is in a strong position for this restart; Ben Simmons has reportedly healed from the back injury that had sidelined him prior to the March 11th postponement. Simmons and Embiid have both spoken about how they have stayed in shape during the hiatus, and the team has taken this chance to bond and seemingly become closer.  And it’s worth noting that a break like this could be good for the team’s psyche (as good as it can be, you know, during a viral pandemic). The season was largely a disappointment prior to the pause, and they were still trying to figure out the right balance of their rotation.

Now they appear to be heading into these games with a plan. Al Horford is going back to the bench, and Shake Milton has replaced him in the lineup. Milton has done more than that; in fact, he is the de facto point guard. Embiid and Brett Brown have both commented on how Simmons has shifted to a power forward role. Simmons appears to have taken to his new job well. He’s even attempted a few three pointers in the scrimmages thus far.

It has been the talking point surrounding Simmons since he made his debut three years ago; if he can add that jumper to his arsenal, his game, and by extension the team around him, can reach another level.

The Sixers’ eight regular season games in the bubble are as follows:

Aug. 1st vs Indiana

Aug. 3rd vs San Antonio

Aug. 5th vs Washington

Aug. 7th vs Orlando

Aug. 9th vs Portland

Aug. 11th vs Phoenix

Aug. 12th vs Toronto

Aug. 14th vs Houston

The game versus Indiana looms large; they have the same record as Philadelphia, but are ahead by virtue of tiebreakers. A win for the Sixers would move them up to that fifth spot. The rest of this schedule isn’t too difficult, and the Sixers would love to move up in the standings in order to avoid a first round matchup with the Celtics (as well as a second round matchup with the NBA best Milwaukee Bucks, should both teams advance).

It will be an interesting dynamic during these games. The Sixers were notably better at home, and poor on the road. Neutral site games without fans negate any real difference between home and away games, but the team is also traveling to an isolated campus for three months. It’s hard to say that any team has an advantage in such an unprecedented context.

And of course the players have concerns about the safety of resuming this season amidst the COVID 19 pandemic. Florida has seen a surge in cases in recent months, and the response from the federal government has left a lot to be desired. Embiid, half trolling and half serious, made his reservations about playing in the bubble known, arrived in Orlando donning a full hazmat suit.

The NBA is back, baby.

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