NBA bubble restart: Bucks, LeBron James among those with most to gain in restarted season

The NBA’s 2019-20 restart comes with plenty of intrigue, starting with the plan to complete the season at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.

The Milwaukee Bucks were rolling through the regular season on pace to win 67 games when the season was suspended. The Los Angeles Lakers were cruising to the top seed in the Western Conference.

But COVID-19 altered the season and now there’s much more unknown as teams play for the first time in more than fourth months and without any home-court edge.

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We take a look at the teams and players with the most to gain as the NBA returns:

Milwaukee Bucks

There’s a valid reason why the Bucks fall into both most to win and most to lose categories, and the reason is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The speculation about this future started almost the minute he signed an extension with the Bucks in 2016. He can sign a max deal with the Bucks in the offseason or he can wait to become a free agent following the 2020-21 season. If the Bucks getting to the Finals or winning the championship entices Antetokounmpo to sign with Milwaukee soon after the season, then the Bucks have plenty to gain and can bank on being a contender for another four or five seasons.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo reacts after scoring a basket earlier this season. (Photo: Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports)

Los Angeles Lakers/LeBron James

A season without playing the NBA Finals would’ve been detrimental for LeBron James, who at 35 years old is remarkably still playing at an MVP-caliber level. While he doesn’t like to think about his career in terms of when it could end, James doesn’t want to miss squander what the Lakers had going this season. James has a chance to win his fourth championship and first with the Lakers, who haven’t won a title since 2010.

Houston Rockets

Through the James Harden era, which includes his prolific scoring and 2018 MVP award, the Rockets have no team accomplishments to show for it – save for division titles and two Western Conference finals appearances. Even though the Rockets tied for fifth place at the restart, they have a rested Harden and Russell Westbrook and enough firepower to make a run at the NBA Finals and redeem a small-ball philosophy that GM Daryl Morey and coach Mike D’Antoni have championed.

Philadelphia 76ers

Wonderful at home (29-2) and dreadful on the road this season (10-24), what kind of Sixers team will we see at the sports complex? Ben Simmons is healthy, and if Joel Embiid can be the dominant player he wants to be – and sometimes is – the Sixers are capable of a deeper run than what was expected before COVID-19 shut down the season. If the home version of the Sixers shows up and Simmons excels playing power forward, the Sixers could be playing in late September. Their performance could impact coach Brett Brown’s job security, too.

NBA

Like the Bucks, the NBA has a lot to lose in this scenario. But also, so much to gain if it can pull of this restart without any major problems – such as a significant COVID-19 outbreak that upends a team or results in the cancellation of the season. The league and players felt an obligation to give it a shot, and behind NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s leadership, the league put together a comprehensive plan to play games inside a bubble-like environment in a central location. It may not work. But it very well could, and the league, Silver, players and teams could be lauded for pulling off a difficult task in the middle of a pandemic.

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