While the San Antonio Spurs and other teams regroup, the NBA should get busy thinking of creative ways to handle the return to play.
As you’re likely aware, the NBA made the landmark decision yesterday to suspend the remainder of the regular season. The news came after the Utah Jazz’s center, Rudy Gobert, had tested positive for COVID-19. We now know that Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has also tested positive.
The NBA’s decision was unequivocally the right one. This is a national health issue now and sports have to come second. We have seen other leagues such as the MLB, NCAA, and MLS follow the NBA’s lead and suspend or postpone their seasons.
The biggest question facing NBA fans now is when will teams return to play? And when they do return, where will they pick back up? Will we get to see teams finish out the regular season or will we jump straight into the playoffs?
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps provided some insight into these questions in a recently published piece.
“The regular-season stoppage will be at least two weeks so all players affected can go through quarantine and, one hopes, be cleared of the virus. In reality, it probably will be longer. By comparison, when the virus broke out in China, the Chinese Basketball Association suspended play in late January. The CBA is in the process of resuming play in early April, roughly a 10-week layoff.”
A ten-week hiatus is crazy to think about but given the rapid spread of the virus, it’s not inconceivable. As Windhorst and Bontemps noted, that is what the Chinese Basketball Association experienced and the Chinese government implemented vastly more restrictive social distancing policies than what we have seen here in the United States.
A ten-week break would set the NBA to return to action near Memorial Day. Would the NBA want to jump directly into the playoffs using the pre-suspension standings? Or would the want to play out the remainder of the regular season? If the league decides to go that route, there was about a month’s worth of regular-season games set to be played. That would put the revised start of the playoffs close to the beginning of July.
You have to keep in mind, the 2020 Olympics were set to being on July 24th. We saw what happened last year at the FIBA World Cup when Team USA didn’t send their best stars. A repeat performance this year would be a complete embarrassment. Would this year’s group have to be made up of players from non-playoff teams? It’s hard to envision near-lock Olympians like Anthony Davis and LeBron James walking away from the post-season for international play.
Alternatively, the NBA could devise a totally new way to figure out the final few playoff spots without a month’s worth of regular-season games. Adopting a play-in tournament in order to finalize playoff seeds quickly would be a creative and time-saving way of wrapping up the season.
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This is less of a concern for the Eastern Conference but could provide a great source of entertainment for Western Conference teams. In the West, the eighth seed and 12th seed are just separated by just four games. Having these five teams: Memphis, Sacramento, Portland, New Orleans, and San Antonio, take part in a play-in tournament would be both time conserving, and exciting.
As the current holder of the eighth seed, the Memphis Grizzlies would get back to back bye’s, securing them a spot in the final competition for the playoff spot. Meanwhile, the ninth-seeded Trail Blazers would play the 12th seeded Spurs, and the Kings and Pelicans would play each other. The winners of those games would then face the other, with the winner ultimately going on to play the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West.
Frankly, the time off could do these teams some good. Ideally, they would come into the tournament after avoiding sickness, and having used the time off to heal any nagging injuries. Given the Spurs accumulating listed of injured players, they would certainly benefit from the break. Teams might be rusty after having so much time away from full-speed games but the tournament would still be exciting.
We’re in uncharted waters with the league being suspended. It’s anyone’s guess exactly when and how we will eventually return to normal play. It would be a bold decision, but implementing a new way to finalize playoff seeding could be exactly the silver lining this horrible situation needs.