Acknowledging that no option would have been risk-free during a pandemic, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday that the concern shared by the league and its players surrounding next month’s restart of the season is rising as coronavirus cases in Florida keep climbing.
That said, the league and the National Basketball Players Association are moving forward – finalizing the deal that will bring the NBA game back and see teams start arriving at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida in less than two weeks.
With the league’s schedule decided, here are the key takeaways to know about the restarted season:
The race for eight
There are six teams in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference – Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix. Technically, Dallas is also included in that race, though the Mavericks need only one win and one Memphis loss to clinch no worse than the No. 7 spot.
There are seven games where those six teams will go head-to-head, including four featuring the Pelicans – who play Sacramento twice, Memphis once and San Antonio once. The other games are: Sacramento vs. San Antonio, Memphis vs. San Antonio and Portland vs. Memphis.
Phoenix doesn’t play any of the other five teams in the race for eighth.
The Grizzlies start with a 3 1/2-game lead over Portland, New Orleans and Sacramento, along with a four-game edge on San Antonio. Unless the Grizzlies open up space on all four of those clubs, it seems likely that there will be a best-of-two play-in series for the final spot in the West playoffs and a probable first-round matchup with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The play-in games will take place if the ninth-place team in either conference is within four games of eighth when the seeding round ends.
In the East, it’s a bit simpler. No. 7 Brooklyn is six games ahead of Washington and No. 8 Orlando is 5 1/2 games clear of the Wizards in the race to clinch a berth and avoid a play-in series. None of those teams can move past the No. 7 spot on the East bracket.
Milwaukee needs a combination of two wins or Toronto losses to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East. The Lakers need a combination of three wins or Los Angeles Clippers losses to clinch the No. 1 spot out West.
Denver also has a mathematical chance at the No. 1 seed out West – but would need to go 8-0 and have the Lakers go 0-8 for that to happen.
Most of the races at Disney will be for seeding. Milwaukee cannot finish lower than No. 2 in the East and Toronto needs only one win to be assured of a top-four seed. The West can still see some shakeups, with four games separating second place from sixth place and only 2 1/2 games separating fourth place from seventh.
Miami had a league-high eight games remaining against the eight teams that didn’t qualify for the Disney restart.
Now the Heat will have a fight on their hands just to hang onto the No. 4 spot in the East.
Miami plays Boston, Denver, Indiana twice, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Toronto and Phoenix in the seeding games. That schedule ranks harder than Indiana’s or Philadelphia’s – the Pacers and 76ers both will head to Disney two games behind the Heat in the East standings.
Orlando and the Lakers both saw seven games against the eight Disney non-qualifiers canceled, tied for second-most in the league behind Miami. Memphis had the fewest such games lost, with just one – a matchup against New York.
Home on the road
All 22 teams will be staying at the Disney campus for the rest of their seasons. Yes, that includes the Orlando Magic – whose home arena is about 20 miles from Disney World. The Magic simply sees it as doing their part to make the restart happen.
“We appreciate the leadership of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, our longtime partner, Disney, and our local leaders in this unprecedented time,” Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “We look forward to providing assistance as needed in restarting the NBA season in Orlando while using our collective platform to drive meaningful social impact.”
Speaking of road
Philadelphia was the NBA’s best home team this season, going 29-2 – on pace to be the second-best home record in a season in franchise history. The 1949-50 Syracuse Nationals were better, going 36-2 at the State Fair Coliseum in the franchise’s inaugural season.
Problem is, the 76ers won’t be playing in Philly again until next season.
Philadelphia went just 10-24 on the road in the regular season, the second-worst road mark of the 22 teams that will be playing at Disney. Only Washington (8-24) was worse.
If the 76ers are going to go deep in these playoffs, they’ll need to figure out how to win without the raucous Wells Fargo Center advantage.
The basketball state
Florida, the Sunshine State, will also be the epicenter of basketball this summer. While the NBA is headed to Disney, the WNBA season is also scheduled to begin next month and be headquartered in Bradenton, Florida. That’s about 100 miles from where the NBA will be playing.
The WNBA plan is for its players to be housed at the IMG Academy, with games to be played at the nearby Feld Entertainment Center.