After a four month pause, sports are finally back; kind of. Professional teams are navigating and adapting to the obstacles that COVID-19 pose such as no fans, a shorter schedule, frequent medical checks and, for the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA), being placed in a so called “bubble” where they are forced to be away from friends and family for a few months. Despite these difficulties, teams are making the most of their opportunities and performing at an extremely high level.
Some teams have benefited from the four-month hiatus and have been able to perform at high levels since their return. One example: the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. During the regular season, the Clippers were already expected to be one of the NBA’s best teams as they added superstar forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George during the 2019 offseason. During the regular season however, Leonard and George both struggled with injuries and were never really able to get into a rhythm during the season.
Because of the depth of the Clippers, they were still able to finish as the second-best team in the Western Conference winning 49 games. The four-month break allowed Leonard and George to rest and rehab and gave them time to get fully healthy when the NBA announced the season would resume on Friday, July 31.
Since the playoffs began, the Clippers defeated the Dallas Mavericks in six games in the first round and currently have a commanding three games to one lead against the Denver Nuggets in the second round. In the playoffs, forward Kawhi Leonard is averaging 29 points per game along with 10 rebounds and five assists per game.
“The bubble is allowing us to build chemistry faster since we’re spending more time with each other,” said Leonard in a postgame interview after game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks. “We’re definitely enjoying this journey, but we still got a lot to build from and work on.”
Other NBA teams like the Miami Heat have found success in relying on their young players like rookie guard Tyler Herro and their bench players, as they advanced to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2014, upsetting the number one seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
Not having to deal with a toxic road atmosphere of the NBA playoffs has allowed the younger players on the Heat to relax and just play fundamental basketball.
“We have a lot of ballers, I’ve been trying to tell y’all that,” said Heat forward Jimmy Butler in a postgame interview. “But most importantly we do everything as a team. On and off the floor. And we’ll continue to do that moving into the conference finals.”
On the other hand, Major League Baseball began their 60-game sprint on Thursday, July 23. A normal baseball season is 162 games, so eliminating 102 games off of the schedule is a drastic change that impacts every team. Every game has meaning, and losses hold more significance.
One team that is not benefiting from the changes, are the New York Yankees. The Yankees had extremely high expectations going into the season after an American League Championship Series (ALCS) appearance and signing the most wanted free agent, pitcher Gerrit Cole.
The Yankees started off the 60-game season strong winning nine of their first 11 games. However, unfortunate injuries started to pile on as star outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were put on the 10-day injured list, along with their emerging young third baseman Gio Urshela and starting pitcher James Paxton.
In a shortened season, injuries are more impactful and can make or break a team’s season.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone expressed hope in a pregame interview stating, “Injuries happen. We feel for the individual and want to get them the best care possible. From what I am hearing they are on an upward slope and I am confident that we will get them back in the next few weeks.”
Baseball is a really streaky sport and is all about who is hot at the time, not necessarily who has the most superstars. Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies, and San Diego Padres have all gone on 10-game winning streaks at some point in the season, putting them in playoff contention, whereas before the season they weren’t even being talked about.
The sports world has gone through some drastic changes in the last few months, but have been nothing short of entertaining. With the National Football League (NFL) returning on Thursday, Sept. 10, there is sure to be even more fireworks in the world of sports.