NBA to return in late July

Posted 6/9/20

For months, the only thing NBA fans have had to look forward to was the next episode of ESPN’s 10-part docuseries “The Last Dance”, which told the story of Michael Jordan and the dominant Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s. Last week, that changed.

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NBA to return in late July

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For months, the only thing NBA fans have had to look forward to was the next episode of ESPN’s 10-part docuseries “The Last Dance”, which told the story of Michael Jordan and the dominant Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s. Last week, that changed.

The NBA Board of Governors announced Thursday a plan for the return of professional basketball, which was one of the first professional sporting organizations to halt operations in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed plan, which was approved by the NBA Players’ Association Saturday, will feature 22 of the league’s 30 teams (based on the season’s standings prior to the shutdown). All of the action will take place in Orlando.

The 22 returning teams for the season restart would be the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards from the Eastern Conference and the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns from the Western Conference.

Each of the teams will compete in eight games to determine seeding, as chosen from its remaining regular season games. After the initial seeding matchups, the seven teams in each conference with the best records across the entire season (including pre-shutdown games) would automatically qualify for the NBA playoffs.

If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference, then the team with the eighth-best record would earn the eighth playoff seed.

If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference, then both teams would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed. To earn the eighth playoff seed, the ninth placed team would need to defeat the eight placed team in back-to-back matchups.

This format allows all teams who were in the playoff race before the shutdown to continue competing for the spot.

The playoffs will proceed as they always have: 16 teams will qualify, eight from each conference, and compete in a best-of-seven series in the first round, Conference Semifinals, Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

29 of the 30 NBA franchises agreed on the plan when originally proposed last week. The lone holdout was the Portland Trail Blazers, who had concerns regarding the format of the return, not the idea of returning itself.

The tentative start date for the return is July 31. There are still a number of specifics that need to be worked out, such as when the 2020-21 season would begin. With the current format, the latest the playoffs could conclude is Oct. 12, which is around the same time a typical NBA season would tipoff.

But, for now, fans can find solace in the fact that there will be an NBA Champion. One of the biggest concerns about resuming the season was the question of legitimacy. A rumored option was a March Madness-style tournament involving all NBA teams, which would mean single elimination.

It is hard to imagine a format such as this would result in a legitimate champion in a league that relies on seven-games series in normal years. To me, the biggest thing was resuming the action with a recognizable postseason format.

While it is not perfect (perfection is likely impossible considering the circumstances), the playoffs will occur throughout the late summer and early fall. Besides the dates of the matchups, the traditional playoff format will be executed unscathed.

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