Milwaukee Bucks must embrace chance to win amid any format change

PORTLAND, OR - JANUARY 11: (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - JANUARY 11: (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images) /

While the playoff format could be completely different when the season resumes, the Milwaukee Bucks must embrace the chance to win.

As the NBA works toward a resumption, exploring all possible avenues and a host of innovative ideas with a view to restarting the season, those connected to the league largely seem intent on taking part in countless debates about the pros and cons of the various hypotheticals.

New ideas are everywhere, thanks to a spirit of innovation that may well be absolutely necessary to complete the season, but for many there seems to still be something of a disconnect between the situation that exists currently and what can now be viewed as the idyllic norms of past seasons.

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Conversation centered around precedent, legacy, and asterisks seems somewhat quaint in the midst of an era-defining global pandemic. Similarly, while World Cup-style group stages, playoff-plus formats, or 1 to 16 reseeding may not be to everyone’s liking, they are all ideas designed with the intention of making the best out of a bad situation.

Put simply, they’re propositions that may well give the players a chance to finish what they started from a competition standpoint, while also fulfilling TV contracts and limiting the financial damage the league will have to absorb over the course of this crisis.

In other words, once the NBA decided it would finish the season and was confident that it would be safe to do so, it entered a brave new world. There’s already nothing traditional about a postseason played in a campus-environment that takes away homecourt advantage and will be absent the passion of fans, and any format change will just be an extension of that.

Of course, from a Milwaukee Bucks‘ perspective, it’s easy to frame this whole situation with the Eastern Conference leaders being the team with the most to lose of anyone. It’s probably true, too. But what does losing actually mean in the current climate, particularly for a franchise so starved of ultimate success as the Bucks have been for decades? Is it not better to lose having had a chance to win, as opposed to not getting to play at all?

The Bucks were the best team in the NBA by record this season, are spearheaded by a player who will almost certainly be crowned back-to-back MVP, and would have every reason to believe whole-heartedly that they’re capable of beating any team in the league in a given contest.

Could they become more vulnerable to an upset with a format change? Without question. Although the changes wouldn’t be all that significant, a 1 to 16 reseeding could set up an earlier than originally expected series with the Clippers. A group stage could also create previously unanticipated banana skins, but that’s not to say it’s a format that the Bucks wouldn’t be able to navigate through all the same.

The expectations focused around the Bucks, and the urgency provided by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s looming supermax extension eligibility, certainly create a dynamic that’s new for Milwaukee. But focusing on any fear of losing at this point would seem absurd, when essentially one of the best teams in the NBA will again be gifted an opportunity to win.

Rather than the Milwaukee Bucks’ great play this season being rendered meaningless, they’ll again have a chance to win a championship.

There was a time when it seemed possible, if not even likely, that the season would be finished without a champion. When it seemed that all of the Bucks’ phenomenal play across 65 regular season games would count for nothing, and simply be relegated to the most agonizing what if question in franchise history.

There will still be what if questions on the path that’s currently being charted, as if the pandemic hadn’t interrupted play, there’s no knowing how much differently things could have played out. The reality, though, is that the disruption did occur and life was upended far beyond the game of basketball.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton recently ran a model weighing up the probability for each team to be crowned NBA champion across various formats ($$). Pelton projected the Bucks’ odds as dropping up to 10 percent across the span of potential formats, but Milwaukee crucially remained a very clear favorite in every scenario.

Whether it’s from the Bucks’ owners when it comes to voting on the potential route to resuming play, or the team’s fans who’ll have to adjust to new variables standing in Milwaukee’s path, whatever the 2019-20 NBA playoffs end up being should be embraced by those with rooting interests in Wisconsin.

Rather than a lack of closure, the Bucks will have a chance to compete once again. The game is played to win, and the Bucks can at least set out toward that goal knowing that they should still have a better chance than most.

Certainty doesn’t exist anywhere in life right now, and that will extend to how the season will play out from here.

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As my colleague Jordan Treske explored on Wednesday, any notions of tradition should essentially be dead at this point. Instead, the Bucks may well end up embarking on a new challenge, and with that they’ll again have the opportunity to cap this season off with a championship.