The coronavirus sent shock waves throughout the world, affecting many businesses including the NBA. On March 11, commissioner Adam Silver suspended the season until further notice. The Portland Trail Blazers had 16 games left. Now, the NBA says they may hold until June/July to resume those games.
The virus’ ripple effect has made the NBA fan question: what do I do now as an avid NBA consumer? The hypothetical is all we have right now. Looking back in retrospect on the "could have beens," Blazer fans know hypotheticals all too well. Sports bookies deal with hypotheticals on a game-by-game basis, always evaluating and predicting outcomes.
That industry has taken a huge plunge from the postponement of many major sports because there are hardly any events to book. That's the negative aspect of these fallen dominoes.
The single standing domino, however, is imagination. We can still talk basketball. We're used to this. Our favorite sport will take a break. We don't. The difference here is that summer arrived sooner than expected. The one particular question we have as Blazer fans then is "what could have been for the 2019-20 season?"
Simulating the 2020 season
Let's do the hypothetical and fast forward to June/July. I decided to take my imagination and "Jumanji" myself into my PlayStation 4 console. My goal was to manifest that "what if game" via the basketball video game NBA 2K20.
One of the greatest inventions in gaming is that one’s allowed to simulate actions. So, if you wanted to skip ahead to a certain level or "boss" you had to accomplish, you have that availability. With 2K20, one can play through a whole season as one or multiple teams with the ability to simulate a process like free agent signings or a particular matchup they wanted to play like Blazers vs Grizzlies.
The game mode that provides this is called MyLeague. Taking it a step further, gamers have the option to simulate a whole season while role playing as a general manager of a team or even NBA commissioner with full interaction of a season and all 30 NBA teams. There's also the ability to choose between starting a season from scratch or continuing from where the actual NBA season left off.
I chose to take off from where the NBA season postponed assuming the role of commissioner and resuming play. However, MyLeague can also let you essentially watch how things unfold as a spectator while letting the AI simulate everything. For the purposes of this article, that's how I went about it and who other to spectate than my beloved Blazers.
Doing the hypothetical
The hiatus of the NBA had another thing going. That's time; time to recoup, recalibrate and regain health. The Blazers took advantage here.
A move that widened the Blazer brow was the signing of Nikola Mirotić. It was anticipated that the return of Jusuf Nurkić and Zach Collins was the only contingent plan in the teams' path to reach the postseason (In all reality, fans would certainly have questioned this move, as it's another forward added to an already stacked front court).
Fans wondered what the signing entailed? Spacing? Blazers had no bird rights in attaining Mirotić as they'd have to let him go once free agency hit so the future of the team wasn't it. When Mirotić signed with FC Barcelona in the 2019 summer, he was the highest paid player in Europe. Before that Summer hit, he averaged 9.5 PPG in 21.3 MPG in the 14 games he played for Milwaukee during their playoff run. This move clearly meant the team was gunning for that final playoff spot.
Mirotić turned out to be that critical scorer they sought. In the 16 games played, he made 44 3-pointers. Portland went on this miraculous 11-5 run to close 2020. Despite a stacked roster, and with Rodney Hood still recovering from the Achilles injury, the beast undoubtedly was unleashed. Nurkić managed to play 13 games averaging 12.2 PPG and 9.8 RPG. Big-Z played 16 games but only averaged 14 minutes on the court. He did shoot 52% from the field, however.
The Playoff Chase
The team strung together 10 straight wins since the virus. During this run, the first objective was handling a 4-game homestand with Memphis up first--the team they'd been jockeying for the 8th seed. Mirotić debuted with 21 points in the must win 121-108 result.
The schedule followed with Minnesota, a win, Houston, a heftier win, and Dallas, an even more colossal victory--150-122. Lillard tied his career high from earlier this season as he went 11-14 from three land.
Two more beefy wins came against Boston and a healthy Simmons-Embiid Philadelphia squad. The latter was an overtime 152-150 thriller. Dame led with 47 points and 10 assists while 4 more players eclipsed 20 points.
Defeating Philly put their record at 38-37, and it was the first time they'd been above .500 since they were 3-2 last October. Portland was now in the driver seat for that 8 seed with Memphis and New Orleans both wavering a bit behind at 34-41. Losing 118-119 to Memphis at home, although, meant they had 4 games left to make ground.
The virus had reached world lows, but Portland fans were in high octane angst like never before. The season came down to the second to last game. CJ had had it with his “Pull Up” podcasts discussing the off-season and pulled up a career high 44 points in a pivotal 136-126 must-not-go-home victory at Golden State.
With Memphis falling just short against Philadelphia 106-109 on the same day, the Blazer victory put them 2 games ahead of Memphis and clinched the final spot, pitting them against the 1 seed Lakers in the playoffs. They finished out the season 40-42.
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