On March 11, 2020, the NBA was in the third leg of its regular season, and the only thing fans could talk about was the upcoming NBA playoffs. But as news broke of Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert’s COVID-19 infection, the sports world had no choice but to hit the ultimate pause button.
In the three months since, basketball fans have been stuck watching NBA 2K tournaments, replays of games from 1985 and endless speculation from the likes of Stephen A. Smith on whether the league will return.
NBA fans now have hope however; the NBA’s Board of Governors approved the league’s return to action in a 22-team format in Orlando.
The plan includes 22 teams, 13 from the Western Conference and nine from the Eastern Conference.
The top 16 teams from each conference will be joined by six other teams that were within six games of the eighth and final playoff seed in their respective conferences. The clubs invited are the Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trailblazers, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.
The 22 teams will each play eight additional regular season games. If the ninth seed is within four games of the eight seed at the end of the modified regular season, the teams will enter a tournament that is single-elimination for the ninth seed and double-elimination for the eighth seed.
All games will be held at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and will officially start on July 31. The last game that could be played will be on Oct. 12 for a Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Teams will arrive in July to begin the training process.
Though fans are excited for the NBA to make a return, the chosen format is controversial.
For most of its long existence, the NBA has mainly focused on its postseason. The regular season has been of lesser importance than, say, its NFL counterpart.
While bubble teams like Portland and New Orleans will have an opportunity to make the playoffs, the format set to be accepted here is considered by many as too long. The season is set to end in early October.
Because of this, the league now has no other option but to delay the start of the 2021 season.
Now, the league has discussed shortening next season and pushing the start to December, but even with this format, two months is not a lot of rest for these players. Because of this , the league may now consider pushing the start date of next season to January or February.
The league was better off including the bubble teams in the playoffs. The 20-team group format might’ve been a better approach, as not only did it include the bubble teams, but it introduced the possibility of upsets, something not common in the NBA Playoffs.
As for predictions? In the east, the seeding is virtually locked up as Washington is too far away from Orlando to have a realistic chance of clinching the eight seed. In the West , Memphis will most likely hold onto that playoff spot, although New Orleans and Sacramento should put up a great fight.
Toronto and Boston will put a great effort in the East, but with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s play this year, the Bucks will probably represent the conference.
All attention however, is on the West. Most viewers believe that it will come down to a Lakers-Clippers clash. The limited time Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have played this year is the X-factor for picking the Lakers to win in seven games.
In the finals, considering the Lakers’ length and size, the chemistry between James and Davis, and an inexperienced Milwaukee, the Lakers will likely win the series in five and be crowned 2019-2020 NBA champions.
The format leaves something to be desired, but in the end, isn’t it great to have sports back?