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What you need to know about the NBA resuming its season

The plan is for games to resume in July at Disney World's sports complex in Orlando, Fla.
(Disney World)

Here’s a look at the moving parts in the NBA’s plan to resume its season.

When is the NBA returning?

The NBA tentatively will restart its season on July 31 in Orlando, Fla., with 22 of its 30 teams participating, according to a plan approved by the league’s board of governors on Thursday. The plan still needs to be approved by the players’ union. Teams will begin training at their local facilities in July before meeting in Orlando for games later that month. The NBA Finals could stretch into the second week of October.

Why did the league choose Orlando?

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Disney’s 220-acre ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which will house the NBA’s resumption of play, is a one-stop shop for the league. There are three facilities with multiple basketball courts, along with broadcasting facilities and hotels. Reducing the amount of travel between locations and limiting the number of people allowed in the league’s “bubble” is vital to maintaining a safe environment for games to resume.

What is the format?

The top eight teams from each conference are joined by those currently within six games of the No. 8 seed in each conference. The 22 teams — 13 from the West and nine from the East — will play eight regular-season games with a possible play-in tournament for the eighth seed before beginning the playoffs. If a ninth-place team in a conference finishes the regular season within four games of the No. 8 seed, the two teams will participate in an additional series in which the No. 9 team needs to win twice in a row to advance while the No. 8 team can move on with just one victory. The playoffs will be seeded 1-8 by conference with a best-of-seven series at each round.

Which teams made the cut?

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The Lakers and Clippers lead the 13-team contingent from the West, which includes playoff-positioned Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas and Memphis. Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix made the cut for an opportunity to climb into playoff contention. The East features Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Orlando, with Washington as the final team hoping to rise into postseason position.

What other formats were considered?

The NBA considered skipping right to the playoffs with the teams currently in the top eight positions in each conference, bringing back all 30 teams to finish a shortened regular season, and even entertained a 20-team World Cup-style format.

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Although bringing all 30 teams to Orlando to finish a regular season would have brought the most revenue and satisfied commitments to all local and national broadcast partners, the scenario also brought the greatest cost to the league and increased the risk of spreading the coronavirus. The World Cup format included a five-team group play stage as the first round of the playoffs with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semifinal. Although the NBA has often wondered about new playoff formats, such a sudden and drastic change may have compromised the legitimacy of the eventual champion’s season, with skeptics saying that the team’s title would require an asterisk.

The 22-team middle-ground proposal preserves the traditional playoff format and maintains an opportunity for a tense playoff race.

What are the safety precautions?

To regularly test players and team personnel, the league needs roughly 15,000 COVID-19 tests, an ability to rapidly process the results, and contingencies if there is a positive test. No details of safety protocols have been publicly released. The NBA and the players’ union are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials on a program to “mitigate the risk related to COVID-19,” according to an NBA statement on Thursday.

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So, what about next season?

The NBA is tentatively planning to begin the 2020-21 season on Dec. 1. If the Finals extend to seven games, the league will have just seven weeks off between seasons to squeeze in the draft, free agency and offseason rest. The NBA is planning its draft for Oct. 15, three days after the latest date of the Finals, after holding its draft lottery on Aug. 25.

Staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.


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