5 big takeaways from the first half of the 2020-21 NBA season.
Wow, one of the weirdest NBA seasons is pretty much halfway over. Yes, many teams have not played all their games due to health and safety postponements, but this is the midway point of the season regardless.
We have seen the quality of play dip at times, frustrations boil over (someone gives Utah a hug), and big trades. There are 5 takeaways from the first half of the NBA season that I would like to cover, starting with the pandemic that has produced much of the weirdness to date.
NBA takeaway No. 1: COVID-19 is playing a role in several team’s seasons
We all knew that COVID-19 would play a role this season in one way or another. Several teams have had great luck thus far, with the Clippers, Lakers, and Nets all having not missed a single game due to a postponement. While they are all title contenders regardless, it has certainly been an advantage to their record so far.
What about the other side of the pendulum, however? A number of teams have had their season borderline derailed by postponements or lack thereof (stay tuned). How have they fared? There are two teams in each conference I would like to cover.
The Miami Heat were coming off a brilliant season that culminated in an NBA Finals berth. While there was some speculation that their excellence was ‘bubble exclusive’, they were still expected to be involved in the playoff race and considered a dangerous team. For several reasons, that has not come to fruition.
At the halfway mark, the Heat stands at 18-18, good enough for sixth in the Eastern Conference. The Heat has had the third-most missed player games (30) due to contact tracing. Despite this, they have only had one game postponed, meaning they were shorthanded more often than not.
This includes 10 missed games from Jimmy Butler, who is at worst the 1b in Miami (though I would consider him the top dog). The Heat went 2-8 in those games, obviously missing their alpha. They are 11-5 in the games he’s played in since, so it is fair to say they could have a solid foothold in the Eastern standings if Covid did not play such a role in their season.
The Dallas Mavericks have been hammered more than any other team in this theme. Like the Heat, they have had one postponement but 41 missed player games (most in the league). An already mediocre supporting cast for Luka Doncic was decimated by the pandemic.
Those 41 missed games are spread across five players: Jalen Brunson, Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell, and Maxi Kleber. Four of those players are typically starters for the Mavs and Brunson has often been tasked with shouldering the offense off the bench. These are not scrubs missing from the Dallas rotation.
Despite this, the Mavs sit at 18-16 in the West, and 8th in the standings. The Western Conference is predictably cut-throat this year, however, and the Mavs would surely love to have more of a cushion.
While we’ve seen COVID-19 derail these teams’ seasons so far, I am concerned for the fallout of the All-Star game and how the pandemic will play a role in the second half of the season.