Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the NBA has indefinitely suspended the rest of the season. It seems likely that the season will resume later on in the year, but there are so many things that can be changed due to this.
How will the suspension affect the Sixers?
Ben Simmons Should Return to Full Health
Ben Simmons is currently injured with a nerve impingement in his lower back. He is set to be re-evaluated in three weeks. Assuming he is healthy – or at least close to healthy when he is re-evaluated – he is likely to be back before the NBA season resumes. If he does not return before NBA games do, the number of games he misses should significantly decrease than if the season went on as normal.
For the sake of Ben Simmons, it would be better if he returned fully healthy before games started back up in the league. That would give him time to shake off the rust, practice and get back into game shape. In that scenario, he should be able to pick up right where he left off. If games start to be played before he is healthy, he should still be far enough into the rehab process to come back with almost no rust.
The question is, what game is he going to be returning to? Because the 76ers first game back could potentially be a playoff game.
What If the League Cancels the Rest of the Regular Season and Goes Straight Into Playoffs?
In this scenario, the 76ers would not be given the opportunity to fight for a higher seed in the standings. If the playoffs started right away, this is how the seeding would look like:
The 76ers would be in the 6th seed and would face the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Depending on how you look at it, this can be interpreted as a good thing or a bad thing. The good news is that the 76ers would not have to potentially play the Milwaukee Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals. That would be huge for the Sixers since the Bucks have the best record in basketball.
At the same time, if the goal is to win a championship, the 76ers would likely have to face the Bucks in any of the rounds, so playing them later in the playoffs does not really mean anything if they cannot beat them either way.
The bad news is that Philly would have to play the remainder of the playoffs as the lower seed (assuming the Nets or Magic do not pull off a major upset). This means they only get three potential home games each series compared to their opponents’ four home games. If you have been following the 76ers at all this year, you are aware of how much better the Sixers are at home than when on the road. Speaking of which…
What If the 76ers Have to Play in an Empty Stadium?
The 76ers and their struggles on the road are very well-documented. Philly is 29-2 at home, the best in the league. But on the road, they are a very poor 10-24, good enough for just 23rd in the NBA.
If the Sixers were forced into playing their home games in front of an empty arena, how would it affect the team?
What Makes a Home Game Important?
The most obvious impact on home games is the fans, but if that is out of the equation, what else is a benefit? Well, there are two other clear advantages that do not involve the crowd. The little to no travel, and the familiarity with the arena. The players get to leave their own home to go play, and not have to experience any of the exhausting things that come along with travel. No jet lag, and no time-zone change. Not only that, but they get to go to an arena where they are familiar with everything. It’s hard to imagine a game without fans, and how it would affect the players. People like Joel Embiid seem to feed off of the crowd’s energy when they play. But going back to your elementary school science class, we cannot truly know what makes the Sixers better at home unless we take away the Independent Variable, AKA the crowd.
Is the crowd what makes players play better? Or is it the familiarity of the area? Or even the relief of not having to travel? We may not completely know now, and let’s hope that we never have to find out. A 76ers home game does not feel like it would even be a home game if there were no fans. But there is another question to be asked about this entire situation.
Would the 76ers Play Better on the Road With No Rival Crowd?
If the 76ers have to play a team that does not have fans at their stadium, would that potentially help them? In theory, you would have to think that the elimination of a hostile group of 20,000 people would help make you perform better. It’s got to be hard to deal with so many people rooting against you. As devil’s advocate, however, the players may be motivated to play better when they are playing against a negative crowd. It seems to work when the Sixers are booed by their very own fans. Maybe the crowd being gone would not help Philly, but it could potentially make the “home” team play worse.
How Would Player Energy Change?
The idea of no crowd being at the games kind of makes it seems like a glorified scrimmage. Would players still get that extra boost of adrenaline when it has the same atmosphere as a practice does? On the flip side, would the release of pressure due to not playing in front of anyone make some players feel more comfortable and therefore play better? The games will still be broadcasted on TV as usual so the pressure is definitely not completely taken off of the players. There has to be some impact though. The first couple of games played like this will be very unpredictable. You could see a role player step up in a big way because there is no crowd. Young players would most likely be impacted the most, the bright lights would not be shining on them for once. But would it help their performance or hurt it?
More Time for Joel Embiid and Al Horford to Get Comfortable Together
In these dark times, we have been given one beacon of hope. Al Horford has been on fire for the past 3 games. He has averaged 20 PPG, 9 RPG, and 6 APG in that 3-game window. The first two of those games were played without Joel Embiid, but his latest game was played with Joel Embiid. The duo combined for 50 points, 24 rebounds, and 9 assists in a win against the Pistons. (Horford had 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. Embiid had 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 assists.) Horford has been criticized practically the entire season for not performing up to the standard he had set for himself before signing with Philadelphia this past offseason.
The 5-time All-Star has looked very poor during extended stretches this season. If Horford can get his playback to the All-Star level it was at in years prior, it would significantly improve the chances of the 76ers winning it all. The main theory behind Horford struggling this year has been because he has always been a Center in the NBA. This year, however, he has played Power Forward alongside Joel Embiid at the center position. Horford has looked very uncomfortable playing alongside Embiid at times this season.
Horford’s last game that saw him perform well being with Embiid is potentially a huge sign for their ability to work on the court together. Perhaps they can figure out how to play with each other during this extended break.
Whenever and however the NBA Season returns, it will be unlike anything we have ever seen in NBA history.
Let’s just hope that the season returns soon, not only for the fun that basketball brings but because that would mean that the Coronavirus is going away.
Featured Image: Michael Leff/Getty Images