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The NBA’s Playoff Restart Plan Benefits Small Market Teams the Most

Every sports fan knows about the controversy surrounding the NBA in recent months in regard to how they were planning to resume play and crown a champion for the year. Last week, league owners and players decided on a plan that would restart the season at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex in Walt Disney World Orlando starting July 31st.

As part of this deal, no fans would be allowed and each game would be played within the same facilities in a tournament style setting. This is the harsh reality we all live in nowadays where games will have empty seats and limited live environment, but at the very least we have something to watch as basketball fans. 

In reflecting on the specifics of this newly ratified plan of action, I believe it is safe to say that there are strong winners here: small market franchises. For as long as the NBA has existed, teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Chicago Bulls have been among the most popular clubs that have attracted the most fans.

This trend has not really changed with the exception of other large market teams recently gaining on-court success hence carrying a more prominent fanbase like that of the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors. But the biggest loser has consistently been those clubs that belong to less marketable, or populated cities.

Sure, teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Milwaukee Bucks have seen their fair share of winning in recent times, but given the nature of the location of each team and relative lack of historical success on a consistent basis, they do not carry the following that many other clubs have. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to represent best of both worlds
Getty Images

So what does this have to do with the return to play format in Orlando? 

The answer is simple. Now that all teams are forced to play at the same location, under identical conditions, with no live fans, the pressure to win in an overwhelming atmosphere for a team that is on the verge of contending for the title is no longer there.

For instance, the Western Conference playoffs are no longer decided in Staples Center against the Lakers. Teams such as the Houston Rockets or Denver Nuggets may have newfound confidence in their ability to compete with these juggernaut franchises for the conference title potentially en-route to a world championship. 

Jokic, Nuggets bottle up Harden and Rockets in 105-95 win | WTNH.com
AP Photo

Teams on the rise that have not been able to overcome the historically great clubs with the massive fanbases, and strongest home courts now have a greater chance than before in achieving so. No fans and no true “home court advantage” means its fair game for both teams on the court.

The winners will emerge based on sheer talent and cohesiveness between teammates with no added pressure of the uncontrollable factors that come from many playoff games. Small market clubs with limited exposure compared to these other giant franchises now have an even playing field, which could mean wonders for their aspirations for a title this year. 

Don’t be shocked if there is a surprise champion in this already unpredictable NBA season.


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