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The NBA has reportedly discussed a number of scenarios should the coronavirus pandemic subside and the season resume. Chief among them is hosting a shortened regular season and playoffs without fans at a single quarantined location, most likely Las Vegas. According to the New York Post’s Marc Berman, the league prefers the regular season hit the 70-game mark that satisfies regional TV contracts, which means each team would have between three and seven games as a tune-up for the postseason.
Several players, including Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, have also publicly expressed interest in a play-in tournament that would create some sense of fairness for the handful of Western Conference teams still in contention for the eighth seed.
What might all of this look like? Weighing the scenarios reportedly being discussed currently, the play-in tournament the league was already considering for the future and some creative solutions to both hitting the 70-game mark and attempting to recoup some lost revenue, I tried my best to answer that question.
In November, the NBA proposed a pair of future four-team play-in tournaments for each conference’s final two playoff spots, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe. In the proposal, the seventh- and eighth-place teams would play a single game to determine the seventh seed. The ninth- and 10th-place teams would then play for the right to face the loser of the 7-8 matchup for the eighth seed. The problem is that a handful of teams in each conference are within three wins of ninth place.
So, here goes:
• July 3-10: Each current lottery team plays a single game against the six others in their respective conferences. That satisfies 70 games for all 14 teams, save for the Spurs, one of two franchises with only 63 games played. That also gives every team currently still in playoff contention an abbreviated chance to close the gap against its competitors for ninth and 10th place. (For example, the Spurs could move from 12th to 10th simply by beating the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings head to head.)
• July 3-14: Meanwhile, every team currently in playoff position is seeded one through 16 without conference consideration — a trial run of another proposed idea — for a single-elimination tournament, complete with consolation games. The first-round matchups for the tournament under such a scenario:
(1) Bucks vs. (16) Magic
(8) Heat vs. (9) Rockets
(4) Clippers vs. (13) 76ers
(5) Celtics vs. (12) Pacers
(3) Raptors vs. (14) Grizzlies
(6) Nuggets vs. (11) Mavericks
(2) Lakers vs. (15) Nets
(7) Jazz vs. (10) Rockets
The winner would receive a monetary prize that gives players a chance to earn their full salaries, and each tournament win prior to a team’s first loss counts toward its regular-season win total for playoff seeding purposes. Take the Sixers (39-26), for example, who could pile on four wins and climb several spots from their current Eastern Conference sixth seed with a victory in this two-week tournament.
The massive ratings draw for a single-elimination tourney might satisfy regional networks whose teams fall shy of the contractual 70 games. If not, just grant them the rights to the first round of the playoffs.
• July 12-18: The NBA then gets its chance at a trial run of the play-in tournament for the 7-10 seeds.
• July 18-23: The league might also consider another single-elimination tournament to determine the lottery order. Winner takes No. 1. Here is how that might look with the 14 teams currently at the bottom:
(1) Warriors — BYE
(8) Hornets vs. (9) Wizards
(4) Hawks vs. (13) Pelicans
(5) Pistons vs. (12) Kings
(3) Timberwolves vs. (14) Blazers
(6) Knicks vs. (11) Spurs
(7) Bulls vs. (10) Suns
(2) Cavaliers — BYE
Who would not watch Zion Williamson try to lead New Orleans to the best odds at another No. 1 pick? And all it would take was a single win over Charlotte or Washington on the second night of a back-to-back for Stephen Curry’s rested defending champions in Golden State to earn a top-four lottery spot.
• July 18-23: A best-of-three first round of the playoffs. Based on current seeding:
(1) Bucks vs. (8) Nets/Magic winner
(4) Heat vs. (5) Pacers
(3) Celtics vs. (6) 76ers
(2) Raptors vs. (7) Nets, Magic, Wizards or Hornets
(1) Lakers vs. (8) Mavericks/Grizzlies winner
(4) Jazz vs. (5) Thunder
(3) Nuggets vs. (6) Rockets
(2) Clippers vs. (7) Mavericks, Grizzlies, Blazers or Pelicans
• July 25-August 3: Best-of-five conference semifinals.
• August 5-14: Best-of-five conference finals.
• August 16-28: Best-of-seven NBA Finals.
That’s exactly eight weeks of quarantined basketball — probably the longest players would want to be stuck in Vegas without either their families or the fruits of the city available to them — starting the Friday before the Fourth of July and ending a week before Labor Day. In that span, viewers would be treated to four separate tournaments even before the playoffs: The battle for ninth and 10th place, the 16-team playoff preview, the battle for the seventh and eighth seeds, and the 10-team race for top lottery odds.
The maximum number of games for any team would be 28 games in 56 days with no travel in between. And even that would be unlikely, unless, say, the Pelicans finish 10th in the West, win the eighth seed, and then play the maximum number of games in each playoff series through the Finals. All but 16 teams could leave Vegas after three weeks, and that number would be halved with each passing week. Only the two Finals teams would stay longer than six weeks, unless the 28 other teams comprised the crowd.
While fans may not fill the stands, TV viewership would be incredible in the absence of other sports during a time when people may still be isolated. It might just satisfy networks and advertisers alike.
You are welcome, NBA.
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