McGraw: The NBA is finally back! Here's a refresher.

  • A basketball court is shown at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Kissimmee, Fla., Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The NBA's marketing motto for the restart of the season at Walt Disney World is "Whole New Game."

    A basketball court is shown at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Kissimmee, Fla., Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The NBA's marketing motto for the restart of the season at Walt Disney World is "Whole New Game." Associated Press

  • An NBA sign is posted on a basketball arena at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. NBA games will resume Thursday.

    An NBA sign is posted on a basketball arena at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. NBA games will resume Thursday. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 7/29/2020 4:58 PM

It seems like yesterday the NBA season came to an abrupt halt on that fateful night in Oklahoma City.

Just kidding. It feels like a few decades have passed since the aborted Thunder-Jazz game on March 11.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But the NBA is finally back, starting with two games on Thursday from the bubble in Orlando. New Orleans will play Utah, followed by the Clippers and Lakers.

Anyone need a refresher on where we left off? Here are some key points:

What's at stake? Not much in these eight prelim games, which will count in the standings. There's no home-court advantage in the bubble, so playoff seeding is less important. Milwaukee and the Lakers have essentially sewn up the top seeds in their respective conferences anyway.

The most interesting race is for the final playoff spot in the West, where Memphis will try to hold off Portland, New Orleans and a few others. The top seven teams in the West have clinched spots.

Who's missing?

Most of the top stars on the best teams are present and accounted for. Some guys who are skipping the restart due to injuries are Utah's Bojan Bogdanovich, San Antonio's LaMarcus Aldridge and Washington's Bradley Beal.

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Brooklyn is the most shorthanded team. Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince are not in Florida after positive coronavirus tests, in addition to previously-injured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Indiana PF Domantas Sabonis left Orlando to get treatment for a foot injury and his status is unknown. Lakers PG Rajon Rondo is out with a broken thumb (sound familiar, Bulls fans?). He could potentially return later in the playoffs.

Who's better?

One team to watch is Portland. Center Jusuf Nurkic hasn't played at all this season after breaking his leg last year, while PF Zach Collins had shoulder surgery three games into the season. Both guys are back and playing in Orlando.

New Orleans has played just 19 games with rookie Zion Williamson this season. He's listed as a game-time decision for Thursday's resumption-opener, but a Pelicans lineup with Zion, Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors and J.J. Redick could be tough.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What to watch for

Momentum had been building all season for Lakers vs. Bucks in the Finals, LeBron vs. Giannis.

One question is whether Milwaukee can carry its strong chemistry through the four-month layoff. The Bucks had some players test positive for coronavirus, but should be at full strength in Orlando.

The Lakers will be missing a couple of minor pieces in Rondo and guard Avery Bradley, who opted out of the restart. The Lakers have added J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters, a couple guys with spotty track records. So whether the Lakers have the depth to navigate the Western Conference playoffs could be a concern.

The Clippers may have the most talent in the West. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are good to go, but Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell all left the bubble temporarily and could miss early games. The Clippers added ex-Bulls C Joakim Noah to provide some insurance inside and he could end up being a key figure in the playoffs.

Denver had several late arrivals to the bubble and started the exhibition games with an all-big man lineup. But the Nuggets should be at full strength soon, while Jamal Murray and Will Barton have already started playing.

Houston will resume its small-ball experiment with 6-8 Proviso West grad Robert Covington playing center. With James Harden, Russell Westbrook and no bigs, the Rockets should be interesting to watch, at least.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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