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NBA approves Orlando return-to-play plan

A sign marking the entrance to ESPN's Wide

A sign marking the entrance to ESPN's Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World is seen on Wednesday in Kissimmee, Fla. Credit: AP/John Raoux

The NBA was the first of the major American professional sports leagues to shut down because of the coronavirus. Thursday, the league took the official step of being the first of the four major American professional sports leagues to put a schedule in place for a return to action with the approval of the teams to implement the plan of NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

By a vote of 29-1, the NBA Board of Governors approved the plan put forth by Silver after a long process of working with the Players Association and team executives. The Athletic reported that Portland was the lone dissenting vote. The next step is for the National Basketball Players Association to approve the plan.

The NBA considered a number of options, including a straight-to-playoffs format for the top 16 teams and one that would have included all 30 teams. In the end, it is a 22-team field with an eight-game finish to the regular season that will determine seeding for the postseason and if a play-in for the eighth seed in each conference is necessary.

In a news release, the NBA stated it is “working to finalize a comprehensive season restart plan with the National Basketball Players Association.  The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices.  The season restart is also contingent on an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to use Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, as a single site for a campus for all games, practices and housing for the remainder of the season.“

This format will carry over the regular-season records from the time that the NBA suspended play after the games of March 11 and then provide an eight-game conclusion to the regular season. If, at that time, the No. 8 seeds in each conference have leads of at least four games, there will be no play-in round. If a No. 9 seed is within four games behind, a play-in will be held with the No. 8 seed needing to win just one game while the No. 9 would need to win two games.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” Silver said in a statement.  “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.  We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”

The Brooklyn Nets, who currently hold the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, will be included in the field of 22 teams. The top 16 teams are in, along with the six teams within six games of the eighth seeds — Washington in the East and New Orleans, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix in the West.

The eight teams not heading to Orlando, including the Knicks, have seen their seasons come to an end and can begin their offseason work. The Knicks are expected to begin quickly interviewing candidates for the head coaching job. Tom Thibodeau, the former Knicks assistant and head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves, is the leading candidate. The interest that likely will come for his services from other teams is why the Knicks will try to complete the process quickly. Others expected to get interviews include former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson and Knicks interim coach Mike Miller. SNY reported Thursday that former Knicks coach Mike Woodson would get an interview.

The tentative schedule would have the season resuming on July 31 and ending no later than Oct. 12. The NBA Draft Lottery, which will be based on records at the suspension of the season, will be held Aug. 25 with the NBA Draft planned for Oct. 15.

This plan would have the 2020-21 regular season beginning on Dec. 1, approximately six weeks after the start of this current season.

NBA Calendar

Tentative dates for the restart of the league:

Late June — 22 eligible teams open training camps at their facillities.

July 7 (approx.) — Teams arrive at Disney complex.

Mid-July — Exhibition games / scrimmages

July 31 — NBA regular-season games restart.

Aug. 25 — NBA Draft Lottery

Oct. 12 — Last possible date for Game 7 of NBA Finals.

Oct. 15 — NBA Draft

Oct. 18 — Free agency opens.

Dec. 1 — 2020-21 season begins.

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