The Return of Basketball

BASKETBALL IS COMING BACK!!! My word does it feel good to type that sentence. However, it will not be business as usual when the league returns. Things will change, so let’s answer some questions about what basketball and the playoffs will look like.

When is the first game?

The start date will be July 31, and the season will run through October. October 12 is penciled in as the last possible date for a Game 7 of the Finals.

Where will the games be played?

All games will be played at the Walt Disney World Resort with players, coaches, and other support staff staying there as well. The league is hoping this will create a “bubble” that will limit the chances of someone contracting COVID-19.

Will every team be playing?

Only 22 teams will finish out the season. Those include all teams currently in the playoffs and teams within six games of the 8 seed which are New Orleans, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington.

Will there be regular-season games?

Each team will play eight regular-season games before the playoffs begin. This will allow players to get back into a bit of a rhythm after not playing a competitive game since March. There is, as with most things, a monetary component to the decision as well. Each team has a deal with a regional sports network to broadcast their games. These deals are worth a ton of money, but to receive all of it, teams have to play at least 70 games on their respective network. Currently, every team has played between 63-67 games, so these eight additional regular-season games will help many teams fulfill their contractual obligations.

How will the playoffs be formatted?

For the most part, the playoffs will remain unchanged. The major adjustment that came out of the league’s proposal is regarding the 8 seed. If at the end of the “regular” season, the 9 seed is within four games of the 8 seed, then both teams will enter into a tournament against each other. The tournament would be double elimination for the 8 seed and single elimination for the 9 seed. What this means is the 9 seed would need to win two games in a row against the 8 seed to get in the playoffs. Once the tournament (if necessary) is over, the playoffs will proceed in the standard best-of-seven format we’re used to seeing.

What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19?

Players will be tested daily for the virus, and if someone does test positive that player will be removed from the team to quarantine and receive medical attention. Players and coaches must maintain social distancing but will be allowed to golf and eat at outdoor restaurants.

How will this impact the teams currently in the playoffs?

An under-remarked aspect of this plan is the effect it would have on races for certain seeds. Take the East, for example, where only 4.5 games separate the 3 seed, Boston, from the 6 seed, Philadelphia. Not playing out the full regular season hampers Philadelphia’s ability to catch Boston. This proposal also has the sneaky disadvantage of making several teams’ schedules more difficult. For example, Indiana, a team in the middle of that race for the 3 seed, was scheduled to play Cleveland and Golden State before the season was canceled. Both those teams have struggled mightily all season and Indiana would have been heavily favored to win both games.

Now, they get the honor of playing both the powerhouse L.A teams instead. Clearly, bringing all 30 teams to Disney is not the smartest idea. You’d be forcing dozens of players to play in meaningless games and the risk of contamination would rise, but there are unintended consequences.

July 31 is still a long way off, but having a confirmed start date should make basketball fans everywhere breathe a little easier. Let’s hope there are no setbacks to this plan, and by the time October rolls, around fans will be able to celebrate a championship.


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