During the 2019 NBA offseason, the league went 131 days between games, from Game 6 of the 2018/19 NBA Finals on June 13 to opening night of the ’19/20 regular season on October 22.
Since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the ’19/20 season on March 11, the league has gone 141 days between games, meaning we’ve waited more than the length of an offseason for the NBA season to resume.
That resumption date is finally here though. The league’s summer restart – its “re-opening night” – will tip off on Thursday, with a Jazz/Pelicans matchup followed by a Lakers/Clippers showdown.
In preparation for the NBA’s return, here’s what you need to know:
We provided a full breakdown of the NBA’s return-to-play plan back in June, but here’s the abridged version: Rather than having teams travel from city to city to play games in empty home arenas amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the league has gathered its top 22 teams in one place, at Walt Disney World in Florida.
There, those 22 teams will play eight “seeding games” apiece at The Arena, HP Field House, and Visa Athletic Center, three facilities that are part of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney. Those seeding games essentially function as regular season games and – when combined with each team’s pre-hiatus record – will determine the final standings.
From there, the top seven teams in each conference will make the postseason. The eighth seed in each conference will be determined by a play-in tournament if the No. 9 team is within four games of the No. 8 team. In that scenario, the two teams would essentially play a best-of-three series, with the No. 8 staked to a 1-0 head start. If the No. 9 club isn’t within four games of the No. 8 club, the No. 8 team automatically claims the final playoff spot.
The postseason will begin on August 17 and will move forward as usual, with best-of-seven series in each round. The NBA Finals will potentially end as late as October 13, with the draft and free agency to follow shortly thereafter.
When the NBA suspended its season in March, teams had about 15-18 games left on their respective schedules. They’ll only play eight more this summer, meaning about half of their remaining matchups have been excised from the schedule.
The fact that the league’s bottom eight teams weren’t invited to the restart made it easy to remove a number of games from the schedule, and the NBA did its best to put together the remaining slate based on games each club originally had on tap for March and April.
As a result, some teams have a tougher road this summer than others. The Grizzlies, who are attempting to hold onto the No. 8 spot in the West, will open their schedule with games against three teams chasing them – the Trail Blazers, Spurs, and Pelicans – before facing the Jazz and Thunder and then closing out their summer slate against the East’s top three seeds, the Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, have a softer schedule as they look to catch up to Memphis. After opening with a pair of tough matchups against Utah and the Clippers, their final six games are against sub-.500 teams.
Seeding games will take place over the next 16 days, concluding on August 14. That will leave room for potential play-in games on August 15 and 16 before the postseason begins in earnest on August 17.
From there, you can budget about two weeks for each round. The tentative start dates for the second and third rounds are August 31 and September 15, respectively, with the NBA Finals on track to begin on September 30.
The full schedule for the seeding games can be found right here.
Here’s what the standings in each of the two conferences look like heading into the seeding games:
- Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
- Toronto Raptors (46-18)
- Boston Celtics (43-21)
- Miami Heat (41-24)
- Indiana Pacers (39-26)
- Philadelphia 76ers (39-26)
- Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
- Orlando Magic (30-35)
- Washington Wizards (24-40)
- Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
- Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
- Denver Nuggets (43-22)
- Utah Jazz (41-23)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
- Houston Rockets (40-24)
- Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
- Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
- Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)
- New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
- Sacramento Kings (28-36)
- San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
- Phoenix Suns (26-39)
With home court advantage no longer a real consideration, certain seeding races will lose a bit of their luster, but positioning is still important. For example, while the Celtics won’t be motivated to catch the Raptors for the No. 2 spot in the East in order to gain home court advantage in a potential second round matchup, moving up in the standings would allow them to avoid a tough first-round series against a team like Indiana or Philadelphia.
The middle of the pack in each conference will be worth watching for seeding purposes, and it will also be interesting to see if any of the Western Conference challengers can pull away from the pack to challenge the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed. Don’t forget — even if the Pelicans or Kings were to finish within four games of Memphis, it wouldn’t do them any good if they don’t also pass the Trail Blazers. Only the No. 9 seed gets to participate in a play-in tournament.
Not every team will pick up right where it left off in March in terms of its roster makeup. For some teams, that’s a good thing.
The Raptors, for instance, should have a fully healthy roster for the first time since the fall. The Trail Blazers will have Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins playing together in their frontcourt for the first time all season. The Magic should have standout defender Jonathan Isaac back in their lineup for the first time since January 1.
For other teams though, the hiatus took a toll. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving remain sidelined with injuries for the Nets, who will also be missing Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, and Nicolas Claxton due to a combination of injuries, opt-outs, and positive COVID-19 tests.
The Wizards, likewise, will be shorthanded this summer — star guards Bradley Beal and John Wall are recovering from injuries, while sharpshooter Davis Bertans opted out due to health concerns prior to his upcoming free agency.
The full list of rosters can be found right here. We’re also tracking players who have opted out or been ruled out due to the coronavirus, and the substitute players who have been signed to replace them.
During the seeding games, teams can continue to sign substitute players to replace anyone who voluntarily opts out or contracts the coronavirus. After the seeding games end in mid-August, players who test positive for COVID-19 can be replaced, but substitute players must have no more than three years of NBA experience.
We’re leaving this section to you. Which storylines will you be keeping a close eye on in the coming weeks?
Do you expect Giannis Antetokounmpo to win his first title, Kawhi Leonard to win his third, or LeBron James to win his fourth? Do you view a team like the Rockets or Sixers as a dark-horse championship contender if they can put it all together? Do you believe Zion Williamson or Damian Lillard can lead their respective teams to a playoff berth? Or will you simply be most interested in finding out if the NBA’s “bubble” experiment actually holds up for the next two-plus months?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts on the most intriguing storylines of the NBA’s restart!
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.