The NBA took another big step towards finalizing a structure for the NBA restart of the regular season on Friday following a Board of Governor’s meeting. While no final decisions will be made until next week about a format per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com, there are some things we know already. The 30-team option is essentially dead, with momentum building towards 20 or 22 teams getting invited to Orlando for a shortened version of the regular season before progression to the postseason.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported there could be eight regular season games for each team upon resuming, with a potential play-in round for the eighth seed in each conference. Inviting 22 teams back would feature just nine East teams (eight playoff teams plus Washington) and 13 West teams (based on standings), allowing for some potentially exciting play at the bottom of the West field as teams jockey for playoff positioning ahead of the regular season finish line. Amid all of these structures, a lot of questions still remain about how exactly a format like this could be pulled off along with some potential pitfalls the league will have to account for. With that in mind, let’s luck at some of the bigger questions the league still has to tackle when mapping this out and suggestion some potential solutions.
What will regular season schedule be?
Assuming the league is going to base final standings and seedings for each conference on regular season records, playing a flat eight games for all teams in Orlando won’t be a perfect solution. The likelier answer is that all teams get to the same number (72 regular season games) which would be necessary to avoid differences in the standings purely based on the number of games played.
It’s an easy solution for Eastern Conference teams as all potential playoff squads have either played 64 or 65 games so far, allowing the league to create a 7-8 game schedule to reach the 72 total. Things get a little tricker in the Western Conference as the range of games played by teams spans from 63 (Lakers) to 67 (Mavericks). The Lakers have a pretty stronghold on the No. 1 seed (5.5 game lead) so having them play eight games probably isn’t a big deal since it won’t have any seeding implications. The Mavericks may be limited to five games however if 72 games is the final total. Five games should be enough for them to get their feet wet ahead of the postseason but this could be viewed as a disadvantage to teams who will have 7-8 games on their schedule.
The other interesting variable here for the league will be deciding what matchups will be in play for the roughly 7-8 regular season games most teams have to play. Will opponents be based on who is left on each team’s schedule? Will it be solely inter-conference matchups? Travel obviously won’t be an issue but there will be some inequities involved based on strength of schedule with the remaining games cut in half. The solution here? Playing conference games against remaining teams left on a schedule that are also playing in Orlando. Playing intra-conference games would be fun in theory (to mix it up before the playoffs) but would cause some substantial inequities in the schedule for certain teams that have already come close to finishing their inter-conference slate.
What are the potential pitfalls for this regular season format?
If it’s the top 20 teams invited back, there shouldn’t be a lot of issues. All the Eastern Conference teams (besides the Bucks) will have seeding to play for with the Celtics and Raptors battling for the 2/3 seeds, the Heat, Pacers and Sixers in the 4-6 slots and the Nets/Magic in a tight race for 7/8. Milwaukee would have the top seed locked up so this would essentially be a glorified preseason for them but that was kind of going to be the case anyway over the final 17 regular season games with a 6.5 game lead. There will be no homecourt advantage to play for but there’s nothing the league can do to change that.
The situation is pretty similar in the Western Conference. The Lakers (5.5 game lead) are highly likely to hold onto the No. 1 seed but pretty much every other seed in the West will be up for grabs with just four games separating the 2-7 seeds. A furious battle awaits at the bottom of the West as well with four teams within four games of the current No. 8 seed in Memphis. The tightness of these races should create some meaningful basketball during most of the remaining regular season games on every team’s schedule (except for Lakers/Bucks).
Should there be a play-in game for the eighth seed in the East?