(Reuters) – The National Basketball Association (NBA) resumes this week, more than four months after the COVID-19 outbreak forced the abrupt suspension of the season.
Games will be taking place without fans inside a quarantined-safe site at Orlando, Florida’s Walt Disney World. The scene will look far different from the packed arenas the players left behind in March.
Here are five storylines to watch:
IT’S A SMALL WORLD
The NBA’s super-sized stars will be eating, sleeping and competing within a single bio-secure site for the rest of the season.
With the Finals running as late as Oct. 13, some players will spend more than three months away from family and friends. A handful of players are already lamenting about the lack of freedom and home comforts available within the bubble. [nL8N2EF5KV] [nL3N2ES1I8]
GETTING BACK INTO BASKETBALL SHAPE
After nearly four months away from team mates, players arrived in Orlando earlier this month to get ready for the rigors of on-court action.
With just a handful of scrimmages and eight seeding games before playoffs, the timeline has been tight.
“I’m just starting to get back in regular season mode,” MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said last week, after his Milwaukee Bucks’ scrimmage against the San Antonio Spurs.
“I just want to get in basketball shape. I want to be able to run down the court for 35 minutes, 40 minutes and not get tired.”
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Athletes around the world have shown support for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement following the death of George Floyd in May while in police custody in Minneapolis.
‘Black Lives Matter’ will be printed on the court for the NBA’s July 30 restart, while players can print social justice messages on the back of their jerseys in place of their last name. [nL2N2ES1EX]
Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James started a group with other Black celebrities last month to prevent the suppression of the African-American vote, while Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban has publicly defended athlete protests. [nL1N2DO05G]
ANOTHER JEWEL FOR LEBRON’S CROWN?
With the dominant Lakers sitting atop the Western Conference standings before the coronavirus hiatus, ‘King James’ continues his quest for a fourth NBA championship title.
The 35-year-old, 16-time All Star averaged 25.7 points per game prior to the shutdown and was widely seen as Antetokounmpo’s only true rival for the MVP title.
If he can win it all, James will be only the third player to win an NBA championship with three teams.
A Lakers win would also hold deep significance for the franchise after a six-year playoff drought as it looks to honor the late Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January.
NBA UNDER PRESSURE
With positive COVID-19 tests threatening to derail Major League Baseball’s shortened season, the NBA aims to prove it can keep its players safe despite a surge in new coronavirus cases in Florida.
The league, which will have players submit to regular testing, has had no new COVID-19 positives since July 13. [nL5N2ER5W6]
(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)