The NBA released its plan for the 2020-21 season late Tuesday night, a risky venture than seems far more precarious than the restart of last season.
With the COVID-19 virus raging and daily virus counts far exceeding the numbers that drove the NBA into a bubble-like environment to finish last season, the NBA has plotted out a schedule that will send all teams on road trips to every city. They also announced the addition of a play-in tournament at the conclusion of the 72-game schedule, similar to the experiment in the bubble,
Even that is hard to understand. In the bubble, it helped provide a hint of fairness to a schedule that was just eight games before the postseason. This time with a 72-game schedule and equality for the teams, the format will eliminate either the seventh- or eighth-place team and allow a ninth- or 10th place team to gain a playoff berth.
According to the league’s release, the teams with the seventh-highest and eighth-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have two opportunities to win one game to earn a playoff spot. The teams with the ninth-highest and 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have to win two consecutive games to earn a playoff spot.
At the conclusion of the regular season, the team with the seventh-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the eighth-highest winning percentage in its conference in a play-in game (the "seven-eight game"). The winner of the seven-eight game in each conference will be the seventh seed in the playoffs for its conference.
But getting to the playoffs seems an ambitious leap right now. The NBA structured the 72-game schedule and while the exact dates won’t be revealed until the start of training camp in two weeks, it is an ambitious goal.
The regular-season schedule will be released in two segments, the first half coming "around the start of training camp." The plan is to release the schedule for the second half late in the first half of the schedule and the second half will include any games postponed from the first half that the league can fit into the schedule.
The All-Star break is scheduled to take place March 5-10, 2021, between the first half and second half of the regular season. The tentative schedule calls for preseason games to be held Dec. 11-19, the regular season beginning Dec. 22 and after the All-Star break a resumption on March 11 and concluding May 16 with the play-in tournament to follow. The playoffs are set to end July 22 at the latest - one day ahead of the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
While there had been talk of a division-weighted schedule, perhaps focusing early almost exclusively on that and allowing travel to be reduced, the league will have teams play more road games against teams out of their division than some in it. The Knicks, for example, will play once in Philadelphia and Toronto (with Toronto’s location still to be determined), but will play two road games in all of the Central Division cities.
Each team will play three games against each intraconference opponent (42 total games per team), with each pairing featuring either two home games and one road game or one home game and two road games. Within each team’s division, the league office has randomly assigned which two opponents will be played twice at home and which two opponents will be played twice on the road.
The Knicks and Nets will play each other twice at Barclays Center but once at Madison Square Garden.
All five teams from within a division will play all five teams from one other intraconference division twice at home, and all five teams from the remaining intraconference division twice on the road. Each team will play two games against each interconference opponent (30 total games per team), with each pairing featuring one home game and one road game.