Having not seen a game in nearly three months, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Board of Governors approved a plan last week that would resume play on July 31 and include only 22 out of the 30 teams, per ESPN.
This plan includes the top eight seeds from each conference and the next six best records. Five of those teams — the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs — come from the Western Conference, while just one team — the Washington Wizards — represents the East.
All players and staff from the 22 teams will travel to Orlando, Fl., using the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for games and The Walt Disney World Resort for housing.
Each team will play eight regular season games to determine playoff seeding. The plan also contains a play-in tournament for the eighth and ninth seeds that is separate from the eight games every team will play.
This tournament will only take place on the condition that after all eight games are played, the ninth seed is within four games of the eighth seed. If the tournament does occur, the eighth seed teams will play a double-elimination tournament, while the ninth seed will have to play single-elimination.
With unprecedented events putting a stop to the season, I find it difficult to be nitpicky with how the NBA plans to bring back basketball. But as much as I look forward to seeing basketball again, there are certain questions that linger in my mind.
To start with, I am looking forward to seeing how the Western Conference will play out.
I have come to love watching the current eighth seed Memphis Grizzlies. Presumptive Rookie of the Year point guard Ja Morant has a combination of flashy play, high I.Q. and competitive edge that makes him so fun to watch. Forward Jaren Jackson Jr. is another player who is entertaining. He shoots about 40 percent from the three-point territory on nearly seven attempts a game with his unorthodox but sweet stroke.
Yet, it is the New Orleans Pelicans whom I’d like to see in the playoffs. A mix of young and experienced talent, the Pelicans have guys like rookie Zion Williamson and first-time All-Star forward Brandon Ingram who can go off offensively on any given night. The team also employs veterans J.J. Redick, who provides some sharpshooting, and Jrue Holiday, who is an elite defender.
There is also some dramatic subtext in this matchup. Last summer, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James essentially traded away the young Lakers core to the Pelicans to play with superstar big man Anthony Davis. The duo has led the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference, and it’d be entertaining to see the Pelicans get a shot for some revenge.
At the same time, it is difficult to leave out Coach Greg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs, who have not missed the playoffs in over 20 years, and last year’s Western Conference Finals attendee Portland Trail Blazers, who have some key pieces such as center Jusuf Nurkic coming back from injury.
And as five of the six fringe playoff teams come from the West, the fight for the last playoff seed will be the games to watch.
Aside from looking forward to the West’s playoff race and the playoffs in general, I have some questions about the NBA’s current plan, the most obvious being how a single site will impact play.
Home court advantage is real in the NBA. Between the rally towels and oversized matching playoff shirts, the home team wins about 60 percent of the time, according to a 2011 study.
How can this advantage exist when all of the games are within the same location with most likely minimal spectators?
My team — the Philadelphia 76ers — currently holds the league-best home record at 29-2. But, they are also an embarrassing 10-24 on the road, which is worse than the 12th seed New York Knicks.
Will every game be a road game for the Sixers? Or maybe every game could feel like a home game?
I will be holding my breath for whenever the Sixers play and will be looking to see how the single site affects play, if it does at all.
I am also curious to see how rust will factor in for the players. In early April, All-Star forward Jayson Tatum from the Boston Celtics told Rachel Nichols of ESPN that he “hasn’t touched a basketball” since the last Celtics game on March 10.
Although one player may not be representative of the rest of the league, there seems to be a wide variation in how engaged certain players are to basketball. Other factors such as the opening of training facilities, which vary from state to state, and how many players who surprisingly do not have a hoop where they live, certainly exist.
And no matter how many hours a player has put in during this lockdown, I believe that nothing can simulate the intensity of an actual game.
The things I am looking forward to are a sort of mixed bag. How the West plays out and how the Sixers will play are things I would have looked forward to if the season had not been shut down.
But concerns like the impact of playing all of the games in one place and players’ rust feel new.
These concerns lead to one big question I am sure many fans have: Should this season have an asterisk on it? To clarify, will the season and the eventual champions be viewed as less?
My initial response is to say no, it should not. Despite varying levels of engagement with basketball by players during this time, the league has come to a stop because of forces outside of anyone’s control.
There is some historical precedence in shortened seasons. The 2011 and 1998 NBA lockouts come to mind, although the scenarios differ.
The past two lockouts postponed the season’s start, which is much different than the current situation when players stopped when they were about to reach their physical and mental peaks.
If anything, this lapse of no playing time is another obstacle for teams to overcome, making this season’s championship even more impressive, as put by current Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers.
Regardless of what the talking heads say, this season and the eventual champions should not bear any asterisk. As teams will have to adapt to playing at a single site with a month and a half to get back into shape, there are many things to look forward to this summer. It could be the playoff race out West, or a favorite team or player making a run for a title.
All I can say is that I can’t wait for July 31 to come.