• Peter Burtnett

Wednesday round-up: Basketball is back as baseball hangs in the balance




With the WNBA underway in Bradenton and NBA tipoff just one day away from Orlando, basketball is back. Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Peter Burtnett

Co-founder, ISM

As the calendar prepares to turn to August, the WNBA season has tipped-off and the NBA resumption is just one day away, but will the 2020 MLB season continue as planned?

Beginning with the much-anticipated debut of stand-out point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who put up incredible numbers during her time at Oregon, becoming the first NCAA basketball player to ever record 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds in a career before being drafted first overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft.

Although her New York Liberty team lost 87-71 to the Seattle Storm, led by WNBA legend Sue Bird and a future legend in Breanna Stewart. However, the main story of the night was how the 2020 WNBA season has been officially dedicated to Breonna Taylor, who was killed when cops wrongfully broke into her apartment under a "no-knock warrant" and shot Taylor after her boyfriend fired one shot to defend Taylor and himself. The cops opened fire with over 20 rounds.

The teams held a moment of silence for Taylor and walked off the court for the National Anthem as their way to peacefully protest.

With the season beginning at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, the immediate favorites are the defending champion Washington Mystics and the Storm, both of which have started 2-0, have a point differential of at least +15 (Mystics, Storm +20) and face off on July 30.

Continuing with basketball, the NBA tips off tomorrow (July 30) at 6:30 p.m. EST with the Jazz against the Pelicans, followed by Clippers-Lakers at 9. The first game will be an opportunity to see Zion Williamson in action once again and to see whether LeBron James and the Lakers can hold their 5.5-game advantage for the No. 1 seed in the West.

With 8 games left to be played, the first six seeds in both conferences have already clinched their playoff berths, with only seeding left to be determined for those 12 teams. However, for the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, the ninth-seed (and only non-playoff team playing in the East) Washington Wizards will need to stay at least 4.5 games behind the eighth seed (currently 5.5 behind the Magic), or else a play-in tournament will be played. If the Wizards were to get within four games or fewer by the end of the 8 games, they would play whichever team is the eighth seed and have to beat them twice to overtake the final playoff spot.

In the West, the picture is much more muddled, with seven teams in contention for two spots. The Mavericks are very likely to hold their spot in seventh (10.5 games ahead of ninth-seed Portland Trail Blazers) and need just one win and a Trail Blazers loss to clinch their playoff berth.

For the Trail Blazers, who are tied with the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacromento Kings and just 3.5 games out of eighth, they don't need to go undefeated, but their first matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies (who occupy the No. 8 spot) will be vital for their chances to not just stay within the four-game buffer, but perhaps even overtake the No. 8 seed outright. The Spurs sit just four games out of eighth, while the Suns sit six games behind the Grizzlies.

With no home-court advantage to play for, the only real battle for the 12 teams already clinched is seeding for playoff match-ups. For a team like the Boston Celtics, who sit in third in the East - just three games behind No. 2 Toronto Raptors - a match-up against a deficient Nets team (currently in seventh) would certainly be preferred over a match-up against a strong Philadelphia 76ers team (sixth).

There is a lot up in the air as teams begin play and the chance for an outbreak remains, the one thing that is certain as the NBA restarts is that Commissioner Adam Silver has led the NBA to the forefront of how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. In tests released just after noon today (July 29), zero NBA players tested positive for the virus.

While the WNBA and NBA have handled the COVID-19 nearly perfectly (or at least as best as can be expected under the circumstances), Major League Baseball has run into the first wall in what had been a relatively smooth start to their delayed season. However, the recent positive tests of 17 Miami Marlins players has left the 2020 MLB season hanging in the balance.

26 of the teams have continued playing, but Marlins games have been postponed through Sunday after they had played just three games. The Philadelphia Phillies (who they played in their first three games) have been held from playing, while the New York Yankees (who the Phillies were supposed to play this week) and Baltimore Orioles (Marlins' scheduled opponent) have also played just three games.

Now, MLB must decide whether they suspend the season altogether, keep the Marlins' games postponed, or perhaps remove the Marlins from the competition if they can't field enough players with negative tests, like when FC Dallas of Major League Soccer was forced to withdraw from the MLS is Back tournament.

Schedules would need to be altered if the Marlins are kicked out, but another possibility is to either wait until players who tested positive receive two negative tests OR the team can call up players from their minor league system until the positive-tested players are able to return to action.

Whatever happens for the Marlins, an outbreak seemed inevitable, and now other teams in MLB and the other leagues hoping to resume will need to keep two eyes locked on any sort of outbreak.

One MLB team that seems to have put a lid on any outbreak is the defending champion Washington Nationals, whose young star Juan Soto tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on the injury list until he is able to return.

With MLB in action, the WNBA underway, and the NBA set to finally resume their season, some sense of normalcy has returned to the sports world.

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