have ever experienced.”
He also sees opportunities.
“It’s a unique situation and that’s the way that you have to look at it,” Clifford said. “We’re going to go back with eight games left in the season. For our team, they’re going to be the eight most important games we play this season.”
The Magic sit eighth in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Nets by a halfgame but lead the Wizards by 5 1⁄2 games. Under the restart plan, the eighth-place team needs to finish the season with at least a 4 1⁄2-game lead over the ninthplace team to secure the final playoff spot.
With just eight seed games, it seems unlikely the Wizards would pass the Magic or the Nets, but they certainly could move within that four-game window. If that happens, it would activate play-in games. The Wizards would need to win twice in that scenario to earn the eighth seed.
For the teams that find themselves in more secure playoff positions, Clifford said the eight seeding games will be more like an extended preseason for them.
However, Clifford said that unlike last season, when Eastern teams such as Milwaukee and Toronto were building momentum in the run-up to the playoffs, the restart puts everyone back to square one.
“As we sit here today, there’s a much more even playing field than you [normally] would have with eight games left,” Clifford said. “You can’t say right now with any certainty that any team is playing a lot better than anybody else. So I think for a team like ours, it’s a great opportunity.”
That’s not to say getting there will be easy. Teams will need to maintain a balance between pushing players as much as possible physically and reaching the point in which the work produces injuries. Clifford said the first few days of a preseason training camp normally involve some five-on-five work because players have been able to work out properly during the offseason and arrive in shape.
That won’t be the case now.
Clifford previously had said getting players back to the proper physical level would not be a quick process. Individual voluntary workouts certainly have helped as players at least have been able to focus on some basketball skill work.