After a gruelling 82-game regular season, April is usually an exciting time for NBA players and fans.

This time of year is typically headlined by playoff basketball, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought the NBA and sport to a standstill globally.

The NBA has been suspended since March 11 – halting the regular season and putting the playoffs on ice amid COVID-19 as the high-flying Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers vie for supremacy.

 

As the NBA waits for the threat of COVID-19 to subside, and for normal life to return, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes.

Having simulated the rest of the regular season to produce projected final standings, the goal was to see how the postseason would pan out too.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusts it for each team's pace. In addition, the home team gets a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs. So, here are the results…

 

BUCKS, LAKERS CRUISE INTO SECOND ROUND

Like last season, the Bucks earned the best regular-season record heading into the postseason. Milwaukee swept the Detroit Pistons in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2019 and the Bucks match that feat this year, albeit against the Orlando Magic. After one-point wins in the first two games, Milwaukee cruise into the Conference semi-finals – winning 112-106 and 113-93.

Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13, Western Conference pacesetters the Lakers blitz the Memphis Grizzlies 4-0 – highlighted by a 118-89 blowout in Game 2. The Los Angeles Clippers faded at the end of the regular season as they dropped down into the fourth seed, but the Lakers' neighbours prove too good for the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2.

James Harden and Russell Westbrook had one foot in the second round but the Houston Rockets – who ended the regular season on a 15-3 run to claim the third seed – lose four straight games to the Utah Jazz in the west. Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks – back in the playoffs following a three-season absence – win three games in a row to take down the second-seeded Denver Nuggets 4-2.

For the second time in three years, the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat meet in the east's first round and the latter prevail 4-2 as Jimmy Butler has the last laugh against his former team. The Boston Celtics also see off the Indiana Pacers by the same scoreline.

No Kawhi Leonard, no worries for defending champions the Toronto Raptors, who only drop one game in a comprehensive 4-1 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

LEBRON MATCHES EARLIEST PLAYOFF EXIT

Hopes were high for LeBron James but the Lakers are upstaged by cross-town rivals the Clippers in six games. The Lakers level the series at 2-2 but the Clippers reel off back-to-back victories in a matchup where the margin does not drop below 10 points. It equals the earliest exit of James' playoff career, having reached the Finals in each of his past eight trips to the postseason.

Staying in the Western Conference and the Mavericks advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2011 – when they won the title – by rallying past the Utah Jazz. After dropping the first two games, Dallas win four on the bounce. The Mavericks' run, however, ends at the hands of the Clippers just shy of the NBA Finals, edged 4-3.

The Bucks fell short of a trip to the big dance last season, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee get the job done this time around by topping the Heat and Raptors in the east. A 130-96 Game 1 rout sets the tone for the Bucks, who beat Miami inside six games.

The Raptors are no match for the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, losing 4-1. Toronto's exit snaps a streak of four straight seasons in which the defending champions returned to the Finals the following year. The last team to win the title and then not reach the showpiece series the following season were the San Antonio Spurs, who claimed the championship in 2014.

 

CLIPPERS MAKE HISTORY BUT FALL TO BUCKS

It is a landmark moment for the Clippers, who feature in the NBA Finals for the first time in their history. In the four major US sports – NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL – the Clippers are the oldest franchise that have never progressed to the championship round, having played their first NBA game in 1970.

However, the Bucks spoil the party as they end the longest title drought in the NBA courtesy of a 4-2 triumph on the biggest stage. The Golden State Warriors held the record for the longest gap between championships – 40 years – but Milwaukee reign supreme for the first time since 1971, ending their 49-year wait.

Milwaukee and Los Angeles split the opening two games before the Bucks win two on the bounce to eventually claim a second NBA crown. Milwaukee's success also continues a common theme in the league, with five of the past eight champions having boasted the best regular-season record and won the title in the same year.

Utah Jazz star Mike Conley Jr. was crowned NBA Horse Challenge champion on Thursday.

The point guard beat the Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine H-O-R-S-E to H-O in the final, putting on a show with several incredible trick shots.

Conley had defeated Chauncey Billups in the semi-finals, while LaVine overcame WNBA star Allie Quigley.

The competition was held with the NBA season suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Conley was averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds for the Jazz when the season was stopped.

Jalen Green, an elite prospect in the high school class of 2020, will forego playing NCAA basketball and go straight into the NBA's G League, possibly opening the door for other top young players to skip college.  

Viewed by many scouting services as a potential first overall pick in 2021, Green announced his decision by posting a video on Instagram, saying that his "ultimate, end goal" was to play in the NBA.  

Green will be the first player in a still-developing program to give high school graduates a one-year stateside alternative to playing in the NCAA. 

Although the G League started offering $125,000 contracts to young players in 2018, it was not enough to keep 2020 draft prospects LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton from spending a year in Australia's National Basketball League. No players signed with the G League under the 2018 initiative.  

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim have since revised their development plan for elite prospects.

They have relaxed the game schedule and increased salaries to be more competitive with international leagues, reportedly upwards of $500,000 for the best players.  

Green will not play for a particular G League team or NBA affiliate but will instead play a revised schedule that focuses on draft preparation, skills development and off-court training in professional and life skills.  

The system aims to place blossoming stars like Green on a team with veteran mentors under G League coaching and have them play exhibition games against G League squads, foreign national teams and international development academies.  

Green is the first player to join the new initiative but is proof that the G League's plan can be enough to lure leading names away from the college experience.  

Memphis and Auburn were considered favorites to land Green, though he also visited Kentucky and Oregon.  

Israeli forward Deni Avdija, a potential top-five pick, has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft.

The 6ft 9in Avdija made his announcement on ESPN on Thursday, saying: "First of all, the NBA is the best league in the world. There is a lot to learn over there and a lot of experience there.

"It's going to be great to take my game to the next level."

Avdija plays professionally in the EuroLeague and Israeli league for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The 19-year-old forward combined to average 7.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 19.8 minutes per game last season.

Avdija was named MVP of the 2019 FIBA U20 European Championship after leading Israel to the gold medal while averaging 18.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 2.1 steals.

Brad Greenberg, head coach of Maccabi Ashdod in the Israeli league, told the New York Post that Avdija "made some significant jumps this year".

“This a guy if he continues to get better like he did the last eight to 10 months, if he keeps that upwardness, he's going to be a player,” Greenberg said.

The NBA Draft is due to take place on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

For years, the NBA has kept us entertained with its dazzling array of unbelievably athletic, super talented players.

They are the centerpiece of some of the greatest stories ever told in sports, anytime anywhere. Although the game is played exclusively within the borders of the United many of the NBA stars, whether directly or indirectly come from all over the globe, which gives the league a rich international flavour.

It is then, of course, no surprise that quite a few of this talented bunch come from the Caribbean region, which is widely regarded for its ability to produce some of the crème de la crème of athletic endeavor. 

Below is our list of the most talented NBA players of all-time with Caribbean roots, however, there is a twist.  The players have been placed on two teams for an imaginary five-on-five contest.