16 CANADIANS RETURN TO ACTION AS 2019-20 NBA SEASON RESUMES TONIGHT | Canada Basketball

16 CANADIANS RETURN TO ACTION AS 2019-20 NBA SEASON RESUMES TONIGHT

TORONTO, Ont. (July 30, 2020) – After a 19-week shutdown followed by a week of scrimmages, the NBA will officially restart its 2019-20 season tonight. With teams, staff and selected media in a true bubble inside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, games will be played inside the Arena, Field House and Visa Athletic Center. Since the season was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic, the restart will see the 22 teams invited to Orlando each playing eight regular-season “seeding” games to determine where they will place for the postseason that will begin Aug. 17. 

Like the WNBA that kicked off its 2020 season a week ago, the NBA’s restart will see players, coaches and organizations using their voices in the fight for social justice and equality. Though NBA basketball is back, players want to make sure that the urgency and attention on dismantling systemic racism and police brutality remains at the forefront of the conversation.

By using media availability sessions to demand arrests in the killing of Breonna Taylor, players are using their voices and their platforms to ensure the return of the sport doesn’t become a distraction from the fight for justice, but rather serves as its megaphone. When players suit up for games, many will wear jerseys with social-justice messages chosen from a list the NBA chose, in addition to a clothing line created by Houston’s Russell Westbrook. NBA courts will have Black Lives Matter messaging and coaches have said they will support and join their players in any pre-game actions.

An example of the statements that will appear on the back of the jerseys can be found here, where the Raptors showed which statements each of their players will be wearing and why they were chosen.

Though the playoff format in the bubble will be the same as any other season, there are a few things to keep in mind leading up to the actual postseason. The top seven teams in each conference with the best combined record of regular-season games, plus seeding games played in Orlando, will clinch a postseason berth. In the event that the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, there will be a best-of-two series play-in where the No. 9 seed would need to win two head-to-head matchups against the No. 8 seed to take over the eighth and final postseason spot in that conference.

There will be 16 Canadian players in the bubble for the restart. This list includes Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort (Oklahoma City Thunder), Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke (Memphis Grizzlies), Cory Joseph (Sacramento Kings), Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett (Toronto Raptors), Kelly Olynk and Kyle Alexander (Miami Heat), Khem Birch (Orlando Magic), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (New Orleans Pelicans), Trey Lyles (San Antonio Spurs), Naz Mitrou-Long (Indiana Pacers) and Marial Shayok (Philadelphia 76ers). 

The Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks will also be in the Bubble. Though the Mavericks have Canadian Dwight Powell on their roster, he isn’t expected to participate in the restart after tearing his Achilles earlier this season.

Thanks to the shutdown in March, Boucher and Brissett enter the bubble as the longest reigning single-season NBA Champions in NBA history. Toronto went 2-1 in its scrimmage games heading into Saturday’s restart opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, and look pretty good for a team coming off the four-month layoff. Though Brissett’s minutes will depend on opportunity and the health of the guys ahead of him, Boucher showed up to Orlando with some added muscle on his frame. As to the reigning champs mindset for the restart? To quote Raptors (and Team Canada) head coach Nick Nurse, “We’re coming here to win the thing.”

The only team with a better record than the Raptors in the Eastern Conference is the Milwaukee Bucks who enter the restart with an NBA-best 53-12 record. With reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo even better than he was a season ago, the Bucks expect to pick up where they left off in March.

At 41-26, the Miami Heat come into the restart fourth in the Eastern Conference. With Canadians Kelly Olynyk and Kyle Alexander joining first-year Heat players Jimmy Butler and Myers Leonard, the Heat have been one of the early season surprises of the season and are looking to return to the postseason after missing the playoffs a season ago. After being out since January with a knee injury, Alexander has been given the go-ahead for the team's restart in Orlando.

The Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers enter the restart with identical 39-26 records, holding the fifth and sixth spots in the East, respectively. Naz Mitrou-Long and Marial Shayok have both had success in the G League. The two are now hoping to make an impression at the next level.

Closing out the Eastern Conference bubble teams is the Orlando Magic with a 30-35 record. After snapping six-year playoff drought last season (where they were defeated by the Toronto Raptors in the first round) Team Canada vet Khem Birch and teammates Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier hope to finish out the season strong and make a return this year.

In the West, the Los Angeles Lakers, 49-14 enter the restart with the best record in the conference. LeBron James has been vocal about wanting to finish out this season and accomplish his goal of winning another NBA Championship, but the Lakers will receive some competition from the rest of the West’s top teams.

The Los Angeles Clippers enter the bubble second in the Western Conference with a 44-20 record, while Jamal Murray’s Nuggets are right behind them at 43-22. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a 40-24 record and one of the most exciting subplots of the season, as Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander learns from veteran point guard Chris Paul. This has been a huge year for sophomore Gilgeous-Alexander who has been Oklahoma’s best player in his first season with the Thunder following last summer’s trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers. Montreal's Luguentz Dort will play with ‘RESPEKTE NOU’ (Haitian Creole for “Respect Us”) on his jersey.

Though the Memphis Grizzlies will be fighting for a postseason spot in the West with a 32-33 record heading into the restart, there’s no shortage of fun and high-flying on a roster that includes Canadians Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke playing alongside Rookie of the Year lock Ja Morant and honorary Canadian Jonas Valanciunas.

Currently outside the playoff picture (on the bubble, in the bubble, if you will), is the Sacramento Kings with a 28-36 record. Team Canada captain and vet Cory Joseph will be doing his best to help the Kings snap a 13-year playoff drought. Tied with the Kings, at 28-36, is the New Orleans Pelicans. Though rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s minutes have been sporadic this season, he’s had a definite impact through the Pelican’s scrimmage games in the last week.

Rounding out the on the bubble teams in the Western Conference is the San Antonio Spurs. With a 27-36 record, Trey Lyles (along with Canadian favourite DeMar DeRozan), and the Spurs hope to make it back to the postseason where they were eliminated in the first round at the hands of the Nuggets last year.

To keep up with all of the happenings in the NBA follow the official @NBA’s Twitter, and the official NBA Canada account, @NBACanada. If you're interested in league fashion, check out @leaguefits or @brkicks. Of course, you already should be following @CanBball, where you'll get a heads up of any NBA and WNBA games featuring Canadian hoopers. While all players and teams are extremely active across various social channels, these accounts will have the important news and the best of all social content in one place.

Lakers taking on the Clippers at 9 p.m. ET. All 22 teams in the bubble will hit the court within the first three days of the schedule, with Friday’s slate featuring six games beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. Team Canada head coach Nick Nurse will lead the Toronto Raptors in their quest to repeat on Sat. Aug. 1 against the Lakers at 8:30 P.M. ET.