The benefits of the Cavaliers playing the last few regular-season games are not worth the risk, or the logistics of pushing the playoffs back even further.
Like most of the sports talk over the next few months will be about which sports can get started back up and what that will look like. Many of the fall sports have already seen their schedules impacted – on May 10 the governor of Oregon announced a policy that will impact the most significant non-conference game in college football this year, between Ohio State and Oregon. With all that happening already, why rush the Cavaliers back to finish a done season?
It’s not preposterous to imagine the 2020 football season being somewhat close to normal. It might not start in September, and the schedule might need to be tweaked if some parts of the country are still on lockdown, but football is far enough into the future that something will probably be worked out.
Baseball may be a bit more convoluted. The Cleveland Indians would have played nearly a quarter of their scheduled games if the season had started on time. Assuming it would take a month or so to get ready once lockdowns are lifted, even a July 1 start to the season seems optimistic. Last year, the Indians played 79 games after July 1. Take away the All-Star break, and end the season on September 30, and you might get 90 games in, with a few doubleheaders. Baseball’s postseason takes a month, so playing regular-season games in October means a November World Series, which probably only works at a neutral site.
But, a 90-game season is enough to crown a legitimate champion. If that’s the best we can do, we’ll live with it. It’s either that or Strat-O-Matic. (Which raises a question: do I have to take Emmanuel Clase off my Strat-O-Matic team?)
The NBA and the NHL were close to the end of their regular seasons when the lockdowns hit. In the NBA, thirteen teams were at least ten games above .500, while seven or eight other teams would have had a plausible chance of making the playoffs if the season had concluded as scheduled. Realistically, whichever of those seven teams would have made the playoffs would have been cannon fodder for their first-round opponents, so creating a playoff format that gives them a real chance to win shouldn’t be a high priority. Perhaps the first week of the playoffs could be a single-elimination tournament for those eight teams, with the winner being the bottom seed in a fourteen-team playoff bracket.
The NBA playoffs generally last about two months. If they begin on July 1, a September 1 conclusion might be possible. If that happens, they could start next season’s training camp in early November and have the traditional Christmas Day games mark the opening of the 2020-21 season.
There are still obstacles. Many contending teams share arenas with WNBA teams, whose season would have started next week and run through mid-September, with playoffs to follow. Other sports (MLS, NASCAR, PGA) still hope to play their seasons in some form, which could create a logjam for attention or even hotel space in some cities. If the Milwaukee Bucks are playing postseason games in August, they could have a schedule conflict with the Democratic Convention, which is booked for the Fiserv Forum.
None of that happens, though, if they play any more regular-season games this season. The Cleveland Cavaliers have seventeen more games on their schedule. Playing those games pushes the start of the playoffs to August, which means the playoffs ending in early October. Now the 2020-21 season probably doesn’t start until the end of January. if that season doesn’t end on time, the NBA Finals would be competing with the Summer Olympics.
All of which raises the question: is the Cavaliers’ season over?
J.B. Bickerstaff said last week that he still expects to finish the season. Aside from just wanting to play basketball, what would be the point? The Cavs are not going to the playoffs. Why would they spend whatever time it takes to get back into playing shape for games that mean nothing? Even in the best-case scenario from a public health standpoint, every arena that is occupied this summer increases the risk of reigniting the pandemic. It is just not worth it.