Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers believes the circumstances of the 2019-20 NBA season—from a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic to restarting play quarantined from the general public at Walt Disney World in Orlando—will require this year's champions to be particularly resilient.
He told B/R's Taylor Rooks that this year's title will be "one of the toughest championships ever won."
Those comments come on the same day that Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka acknowledged that the mental side of the league's restart in Orlando will be a major challenge.
"I think Orlando itself is going to be as much of a mental test as it is a physical test just because of the extraordinary circumstances there," he told reporters. "I think a team like ours that has such a strong togetherness component will have an advantage at that part. This team of guys love being together and love playing together. I think that's the significant part of the [first] 63 games."
Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford said he's basically treating the July restart as an entirely new situation rather than a continuation of the 2019-20 campaign.
"I take this as just a unique opportunity. What's it been—10 or 11 weeks since we played? Guys have had basically an offseason," he said, per Nick Friedell of ESPN. "I think teams have come back and you'll even see some different offense, to be honest. We're going to put some new things in too. I think it's a unique situation and I think that's the way you have to look at it."
The one nice thing for a team like Rivers' Rockets is that the eight-game regular season can be viewed almost as a preseason given that Houston has basically clinched a playoff berth. At 40-24, the Rockets hold an 8.5-game lead over the current No. 8 seed, the Memphis Grizzlies (32-33).
So the Rockets are likely headed to the postseason, with only seeding really at stake in the eight-game return. That will give them the chance to work out some of the kinks associated with a four-month layoff without the added pressure of needing to win.
Of course, it will all be a moot point if positive tests of the coronavirus continue to spike, namely among NBA players.
"Certainly, if we have a lot of cases, we're going to stop," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Sean Gregory of Time on Tuesday. "You cannot run from this virus. I am absolutely convinced that it will be safer on this campus than off this campus, because there aren't many other situations I'm aware of where there's mass testing of asymptomatic employees."