Celtics

2020 NBA Playoffs: Why this year's champ will be one of the greatest champions ever

2020 NBA Playoffs: Why this year's champ will be one of the greatest champions ever

A return to the NBA season is shifting ever-so-slightly to becoming a reality, with Orlando’s Disney World appearing to be the venue of choice for the league to resume the 2019-2020 season. 

And while there are some who will surely slap an asterisk over whichever team emerges as an NBA champion this year, that’s far from how the next NBA champion should be viewed in the pantheon of previous title winners. 

When you look at the journey whichever team hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy (in August? September? October maybe?) will have had to go through, it will be the kind of postseason gauntlet that no team has ever had to endure. 

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And that makes the next NBA champion, able to have overcome the stop-and-start season due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, worthy of being in the conversation for having one of the greatest seasons ever. 

The whole notion of any NBA champion being less than worthy of the title is crazy. 

In 2015, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors won their first of three NBA titles within a four-year window, and their opponent's starting point guard missed some or most games in each of their playoff series that year. 

But that team and subsequent Warriors squads are still regarded — as they should be — as elite champions. 

TEAM HEALTH NOT AS BIG AN ISSUE

The one thing that teams worry the most about going into the playoffs — health — won’t be anywhere close to being as big a factor as it has in past years. 

The global pandemic put the brakes on the NBA season and sports in general, providing a number of NBA players with various bumps and bruises plenty of time to heal up and be as close to being fit as possible for a lengthy postseason. 

Of course, there will be rust for all players to shake off, and some players won’t be in nearly as good a condition to start the reboot to the season as they would be if the season had gone on without interruption. 

But the injuries that teams are often trying to manage and navigate around at the end of the season won’t be there because of the extended time without games and practices. 

For the Celtics, the idea that you can essentially stay where you are in the standings, get Kemba Walker more than two months of rest with no games and practice while potentially playing a handful of games prior to the postseason, gives Boston a great shot at making a deep playoff run. 

And unfortunately for the Celtics, the same can be said for just about every other team in the postseason picture. 

So that means regardless of what your playoff seeding will be, regardless of how healthy your team as a whole will be, your opponent will also be close to being at their peak physically which means every series — more likely than not — will be harder to win than previous years. 

And for those who point to how teams can still be impacted by players getting hurt during the ramp-up to the playoffs, the risk of that happening in games prior to this postseason becomes much smaller when you’re talking about a handful of potential regular season games leading up to this year’s playoffs versus the slate of 60-plus games they’ve already played.

Given the option of having kept playing while navigating rest in between games and practices, or having an extended lay-off where conditioning and rust are bigger concerns than the actual wear and tear on the body, the former is the preferred option for any team with legit visions of winning a championship. 

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NO HOME-COURT “ADVANTAGE”

The top teams spent all season working towards positioning themselves to host a Game 7 in front of their fans if a series came down to that.

But with all 16 teams likely playing games at one neutral site, the home-court edge no longer exists. 

The playoffs become more like an expanded NCAA Tournament filled with “best-of” series instead of a one-game, winner-take-all format. 

Not only does this eventually result in the better team winning the series, but it takes out of the equation one of the biggest X-factors when it comes to playoff success — fans. 

Without them, it becomes a whole lot easier for a “road” team to pull off an upset or two in a series that they weren’t supposed to compete in, let alone win games. 

THE RISE OF THE ROLE PLAYER

And maybe one of the biggest factors in games played without fans will be a team’s role players.

Often we see backups, particularly on the road, succumb to the incessant chants and boos and verbal barrage they get from fans. 

Fans do it because they know as sure as the sun rises and LeBron James goes deep into the playoffs, those verbal taunts have a way of impacting role players in a negative way. 

But if they’re playing in front of no fans as expected, role players and reserves can simply enter the game and focus on the task at hand without the usual distractions. 

And the impact this will have on the playoffs is better play from the backups, which could mean the difference between advancing to the NBA Finals and becoming one of the greatest teams ever, or getting bounced in the first round. 

Jayson Tatum's talent, Jaylen Brown's bulk amaze Celtics teammate Enes Kanter

Jayson Tatum's talent, Jaylen Brown's bulk amaze Celtics teammate Enes Kanter

Celtics big man Enes Kanter has a propensity to talk up his teammates, but as Boston prepares for its first practice inside the Disney bubble on Friday, Kanter offered a particularly glowing report of what he’s seen from Boston’s core rotation players in voluntary workouts, especially Jaylen Brown.

"The one who amazed me the most is probably Jaylen Brown,” Kanter said Thursday while taping an episode of “The Enes Kanter Show” podcast from his hotel room in Orlando. “[Brown] literally came in — his arms, his upper body, he’s like doubled. He was an extra large and now he was like a double XL.

"This dude, I’m like, ‘What did you do?’ I think all the boxing with his grandfather [during quarantine workouts] got him right. He looks really strong to me.”

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Brown’s 78-year-old grandfather, Willie Brown, a Vietnam vet, guided Brown through boxing-heavy workouts while the NBA season was paused. Those sessions might have helped Brown add bulk, which would come in handy given that he’s routinely tasked with defending power forwards and stretch bigs.

But Brown wasn’t the only one earning Kanter's praise.

"Jayson Tatum, you walk in the gym, this dude is not missing. He did not lose his touch. I’m like, ‘This is talent.’ Rob Williams looks really good. He’s dunking everything. [Daniel] Theis finally got his six-pack. He actually looks in really good shape. Theis was dunking everything and making 3s — the Theis that we know.

“Kemba [Walker] lost weight and he actually looked leaner. I actually asked him, ‘Did you get taller?’ He was like, ‘No, I’m just leaner. I’m just in good shape.’ … Gordon looked really good, looked really really good. They’re all ready to go.”

Enes Kanter Show: C's center gives first impressions of NBA bubble | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

A leaner Walker could alleviate some of the knee discomfort the All-Star point guard experienced before the season paused.

Kanter is eager to see what a full-strength Celtics squad can accomplish given how rare it was for the team to have all of its core players healthy and playing to their abilities before the season was interrupted.

Kanter noted how the Larry O’Brien Trophy from Boston’s 2008 title win was at the Auerbach Center earlier this week and he’s eager to help deliver another shiny golden prize. He’s confident Boston has the talent and focus to compete for this year’s crown, especially given the unique bubble conditions.

“All the players showed up; none of the Celtics players stayed home,” said Kanter. “We’re here to compete, here to have fun, and try to win a championship.

"Hey, I promise the Celtics fans, man, the 18th banner is coming soon. We better win because I know how crazy the Celtics fans are. We better get that.”

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center explains importance of mental strength in NBA bubble

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center explains importance of mental strength in NBA bubble

The NBA's bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida will provide the players with plenty of fun activities -- bowling, golf, movies, video games and ping pong, among others -- in their spare time. This doesn't mean the environment will be without challenges, though.

The Boston Celtics traveled down to Orlando on Wednesday night, and they will be staying at the Gran Destino Tower during the league's restart.

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Not every player will be in perfect basketball shape once practices ramp up soon. That's understandable, and it's a challenge the players eventually will overcome. The mental challenges will be the most important -- and maybe the toughest -- to battle through given the uniqueness of the situation. 

In the latest episode of the The Enes Kanter Show podcast, Celtics center Enes Kanter explained the importance of mental strength in the league's bubble.

"All we have to do is get in game shape. We all know how to play basketball. It's like riding a bike -- you can't forget how to play basketball," Kanter said. "You can be a little rusty and get back into shape. But I think the important thing is the mental part because you're away from your family and loved ones for three months and now all you have is your basketball family and coaches. That's why the 3-month period before Orlando was so important to keep building that chemistry. I think now we're all bonding and the chemistry is really good. We all care about each other. We're just going to go out there and play golf, go bowling and fish all day, and other than that just play basketball. I feel, besides from the games, you can actually just relax. Read a book, just invest in yourself."

Enes Kanter Show: C's center gives first impressions of NBA bubble | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The bubble was made to ensure the players can continue playing in an environment that's as safe and as healthy as possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Players won't have the same freedom they normally do on the road, and the teams that are mentally tough and well prepared likely will enjoy the most success in Orlando.

Kanter is in no mood to complain. He's going to make the most out of the opportunity to compete for a championship, and you can bet his Celtics teammates will have a similar attitude. 

"Love it or hate, you're going to be here for three months," Kanter said. "So you might as well look at the positive side of it.

Check out The Enes Kanter Show on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below: