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What a distinction a 12 months makes is such a cliché. However, man, what a distinction a 12 months makes.
On the evening of June 13, 2019, Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors beat a badly wounded Golden State Warriors crew 114-110 in Sport 6 of the Finals in Oakland to win Toronto’s first NBA title. For Raptors followers throughout Canada, it was the fruits of a playoff run that was exhilarating and stunning and unforgettable in all one of the best methods.
Quick-forward a 12 months and all the things is upside-down. Due to a once-in-a-century world pandemic, there isn’t any NBA basketball. Hell, you are not even allowed to play a pickup recreation in Toronto proper now. As an alternative of followers packing the streets to have fun, many have gathered to protest racial injustice and police violence — after which retreated again to their properties to renew social distancing.
This is a take a look at what else has modified for a number of the figures concerned in final 12 months’s championship sequence, and what they may be going through subsequent:
For many people, the primary oh, s— second of the coronavirus disaster occurred on the evening of Wednesday, March 11. That is when a Utah Jazz-Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder recreation was aborted simply earlier than tipoff as a result of Jazz centre Rudy Gobert had examined constructive for COVID-19. This occurred the identical day the World Well being Group formally declared a pandemic. The NBA rapidly introduced it was suspending its season, and the following day many different sports activities leagues adopted go well with.
Three months later, we’re nonetheless some time away from the NBA returning. A plan has lastly been hashed out that may see 22 of the league’s 30 groups (everybody who’s in a playoff spot or inside six video games of 1) meet on the Disney World property in Orlando, Fla., this summer time. They will start coaching camps between July 9-11 and begin taking part in video games with no followers in attendance on July 31. Every crew will play eight regular-season video games, adopted by a normal 16-team playoff match with best-of-seven sequence. A brief play-in sequence might be held between the No. eight and No. 9 seeds in the event that they’re inside 4 video games of one another. The NBA expects the Finals to start by Sept. 30, which pushes the beginning of the 2020-21 season to most likely early December.
The Golden State Warriors
No crew in sports activities has endured extra adjustments within the final 12 months. The Warriors dynasty crumbled earlier than our eyes within the 2019 Finals as stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson each suffered main accidents that greased the upset loss to Toronto. Durant then bolted for Brooklyn, the place basketball’s most tragic determine has but to go well with up for a recreation and does not plan on doing so till subsequent season to verify his Achilles is true. Thompson sat out the complete season too, and Steph Curry missed all however 5 video games with a damaged hand.
Because of this, Golden State, which averaged 64 wins over the earlier 5 seasons, completed an NBA-worst 15-50 and is among the many eight bottom-feeders who aren’t invited to complete the season in Orlando. Not what the Warriors envisioned for his or her first 12 months after ditching Oakland for a gilded new area in San Francisco that caters to the Silicon Valley elite.
After a quick flirtation with staying in Toronto, the Finals MVP did precisely what he was anticipated to do all alongside: he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, who instantly grew to become a prime title contender by concurrently swinging a deal for regular-season MVP finalist Paul George.
Numerous NBA observers appear to really feel vaguely upset by the Clippers, however they’re simply advantageous. At 44-20, they’ve the fourth-best document within the NBA. And that got here with Kawhi, identical as final 12 months, skipping a number of video games for load-management causes and George lacking the primary month after shoulder surgical procedure. Kawhi is averaging 26.9 factors — 0.three greater than final common season with Toronto. The aim was at all times to verify him and George stayed contemporary for the playoffs, and now they’re extra-rested. The Clippers are nonetheless each bit the contender we thought they had been final summer time.
This is one thing that really stayed the identical: the Raptors are nonetheless an excellent crew. In truth, their .719 profitable share is best than the one they completed the 2018-19 common season with. Final 12 months, the Raps had the second-best document within the NBA. This 12 months, they’re third general. Fairly good for shedding one of the best participant on the planet and getting nothing in return.
The Raptors have a chip on their shoulder to show they’ll win with out Kawhi. Veteran guard Kyle Lowry is the embodiment of that angle, and Pascal Siakam’s leap to stardom (he will get higher yearly) is a giant purpose Toronto has been capable of maintain chugging alongside.
No matter occurs in Orlando, you may rely on the Raptors to place up a spirited, honourable defence of their title. However to tug off the repeat — positively a chance — they’re going to must as soon as once more get previous Giannis Antetokounmpo and the top-ranked Bucks within the East. The resurgent Boston Celtics are a giant menace this 12 months too. A visit again to the Finals would possible imply a showdown with Kawhi’s Clips or the L.A. Lakers, who’re led by Toronto tormentor LeBron James and his all-star sidekick Anthony Davis.
If the pandemic hadn’t occurred, and if the Raptors did not make it again to the NBA Finals (the sequence needs to be in progress proper now), their head coach would at the moment be getting ready for an enormous match for his facet gig as coach of the Canadian nationwide crew. However the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics additionally meant that Canada’s last-chance qualifying match in Victoria was pushed again a 12 months. Too unhealthy, as a result of a number of Canadian NBA gamers had signed on, giving the boys’s nationwide crew an excellent likelihood of reaching the Olympics for the primary time in 20 years.
In the mean time, it appears unlikely these guys will keep on board for subsequent 12 months. With this 12 months’s NBA playoffs not ending till the autumn and the 2020-21 season most likely opening a few months later than typical, the ’21 playoffs may prolong into the summer time — and probably into the Olympics, which begin on July 23. We expect.
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