NBA To Return July 31 With 22-Team Format, Play-In Tournament

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  • Commissioner Silver to propose 22-team format upon NBA return on July 31
  • Teams would play eight regular-season games before postseason
  • 2019-20 season is over for eight teams out of the playoff picture

At long last, it sounds like the NBA is back.

Over the weekend, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the NBA’s Board of Governors is expected to vote in favor of commissioner Adam Silver’s return-to-play proposal. The league has a call with its owners on Thursday. At least three-fourths of the voters must vote in favor of any plan for it to push forward, and the league believes the measure will be approved.

On Wednesday, details of how the league will look upon its return have emerged. Silver is set to unveil his plans to invite 22 of the league’s 30 teams to resume the stalled season at the Disney World complex in Orlando. That means the 2019-20 season for the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Detroit Pistons is over.

Play-In Tournament For Final Spots

The 22-team format means the 16 teams currently in playoff spots plus six additional teams in postseason contention will return to play. Every team will play eight regular-season games, and there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth and final playoff seed in both conferences, if necessary.

If the No. 9 seed is at least four games behind the team in the No. 8 spot, the eighth seed automatically earns that playoff spot. If the No. 9 seed is four or fewer games back, Nos. 8 and 9 will play a play-in tournament for the last playoff spot. The No. 9 seed will have to beat the No. 8 seed twice in order to leapfrog into the playoffs. The No. 8 team will have to beat the No. 9 seed just once to clinch the spot.

The teams that wind up earning those No. 8 seeds will obviously have to face the top seed in each conference after that. As things stand, the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks occupy the top seeds in the West and East, respectively. The league is expected to proceed with a traditional East-West playoff format featuring four rounds of best-of-seven series to determine an eventual champion.

July 31 Start Date

The NBA is targeting to restart the regular season on July 31 in Orlando, with games likely taking place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Because Disney World is private property, the NBA will be able to have more control over who comes in or goes out than they would in a more public area like the Las Vegas Strip.

ESPN reported Tuesday that the league has set a date for a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals for October 12. The NBA shut down its season on March 11.

The NBA settled on the 22-team format after discussing a number of alternative plans with owners. Those plans included having the 16 teams in playoff spots return to instantly begin the playoffs. Another scenario involved inviting 20 teams back to play an Olympic-style group stage. The last scenario had the league inviting all 30 teams back to get to the 72-game mark with a play-in tournament.

Shams Charania of The Athletic said that the 16-team and 30-team ideas lost traction pretty quickly. The 16-team format wouldn’t give teams currently chasing playoff spots a way to get in, and more teams wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the financial benefits that come with restarting the season. The 30-team model would have put a strain on the league’s ability to keep everyone safely quarantined.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan was vocally against the idea of having all 30 teams return, especially if bottom-feeding teams would have to play meaningless games with no playoff implications. Owners of the Hawks and Bulls said they were open to returning, but some players and team staff members didn’t share those views.

Playoff Races

13 Western Conference teams will be invited to Orlando along with nine Eastern Conference squads. The teams currently out of the playoff mix that will have a chance to get in are the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Washington Wizards.

The Memphis Grizzlies currently occupy the final playoff spot in the West, while the Orlando Magic are doing so out East. The Wizards are 5.5 games behind Orlando as things stand, so Washington will have ample opportunity to make up ground and at least force a play-in tournament.

The Grizzlies are 3.5 games ahead of the Blazers, Pelicans, and Kings, who all have similar records. The Spurs are four games adrift of Memphis, while the Suns are six games back.

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Taylor Smith / Author

Taylor is a sports writer based in Southern California. While he primarily specializes in basketball, baseball and football, he will also dabble in things like soccer and politics from time to time. He has lived in just about every corner of the United States at one point or another, and he has been covering sports and sports betting for the better part of a decade. Taylor currently lives in Long Beach with his fiancé and their two cats.