Hope is finally on the horizon for sports fans. Late spring and early summer have always been dominated by the NBA playoffs; fans have been accustomed to seeing thrilling finishes and great games throughout April and May.
This year, however, the unfortunate circumstances the whole world is in right now have left sports fans without games to watch.
With little to view in the world of sports, fans have been left with documentaries and a charity golf tournament in which quarterback Tom Brady split his pants bending over to pick up a ball on live television.
Sports during quarantine just have not been on quite the same excitement level as watching Damian Lillard wave home the Oklahoma City Thunder with a buzzer beater from just shy of half-court in last season’s NBA playoffs.
The good news, though, is the playoffs are returning soon, as the NBA Board of Governors approved a new format to restart the 2019-20 season. Regular season games are set to resume on July 31.
“We’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way in which we can resume basketball and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while,” said Commissioner Adam Silver in a video call appearance on Inside the NBA on TNT.
ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, will host the end to the regular season, where 22 teams will play. Training camps for the returning teams begin in late June in Orlando. The players will be tested for COVID-19 regularly.
“The players will be tested on a daily basis, along with the other participants, and they will be maintaining social distancing protocols,” Silver said.
Thirteen Western Conference squads and nine from the East make up the 22 teams. They will play eight final regular season or “seeding” games over a 16-day span.
In both conferences, the seeding of the top seven teams can change based on the outcome of those final eight games, but the top seven teams have clinched a playoff spot.
Each conference’s eight seeds will be decided by either the last eight games or a possible play-in tournament, which only happens if the eighth seed isn’t more than four games ahead of ninth seed. Then, the postseason commences and the path to the NBA finals is established.
Silver said Michael Jordan emphasized the competition structure because, with all the chaos in the world, it would remain as close to the normal structure as it could.
The eighth seed will be the most important part of these seeding games as the teams on the bubble are much closer together than the teams at the top each conference.
The first place Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks are 5.5 and 6.5 games ahead of the second-seeded team in their conferences, while the current eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the West are only three games ahead of Portland.
One game behind Portland is New Orleans and Sacramento, who have the same record, followed closely behind by San Antonio and Phoenix.
The race for the West’s eighth seed will be something to see. Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant has done everything for the Grizzlies this season, as he is the first player in franchise history to score more than 1,000 points and dish out 400 or more assists in a single season. He’s done just about everything to win the Rookie of the Year but hoist the trophy in the air.
After starting an abysmal 6-22 on the season, The Pelicans found their way going 22-14 until the suspension of the season, in large part due to the return of rookie Zion Williamson and the connection he developed with Lonzo Ball. They wreaked havoc on the opposition with alley-oop passes covering nearly the full court for quick easy transition points.
Damian Lillard and Devin Booker put their squads right back in possible playoff contention, and they are as dangerous as ever heading into the seeding games.
Lillard is always ready to send a team home at a second’s notice, and Booker may just score as much as 70 points to get his team to the playoffs. However, the game could look different though, as players haven’t been playing for almost three months.
The game will feel different with the smaller and more intimate setting. Without fans and in a small gym, the NBA playoffs may look more along the lines of a basketball camp or summer league game, rather than the games which will ultimately be deciding a NBA champion.
The game and the players could be affected in a negative way by this. LeBron James, the face of the NBA, even said in March he wouldn’t want to play in a game without fans.
Games being played in a different way could also make these playoffs one of the most thrilling and memorable yet, creating a magical Disney ending. If that’s the case, it couldn’t happen at a better place, or a more perfect time.