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SportsColumnistsSteve Popper

Sorry, Knicks, only top 16 NBA teams should play when season resumes

It's a long shot that RJ Barrett and

It's a long shot that RJ Barrett and Knicks will play again this season.  Credit: AP/Luis M. Alvarez

The Knicks opened their practice facility Friday morning, but they still seem unlikely to play another game this season.

They are 21-45, and there are very few permutations of a start-up scenario for the NBA’s suspended season that would include them. In the coming week, the league is expected to announce its plans for a resumption of the season, and they likely won’t include the worst teams.

Polling of general managers, discussions with the Board of Governors and communication with the Players Association have given NBA commissioner Adam Silver the favored plans of players and teams. It rests in his hands to try to find one that makes at least some of them happy.

The goal is safety, the league insists. If money trumped all, playing the remaining regular-season games would provide the most television revenue, but that isn’t happening. The league hopes to start up by July 31 and be done with the Finals by the end of September.

The most reasonable plan would be to declare the regular season over and start up the postseason with the regular complement of 16 teams. But that will upset the teams that still had a reasonable chance at a playoff spot — the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Kings are all 3 1⁄2 games out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and the Spurs are a half-game behind them.

A scenario that could work would be a 20-team playoff field, with the final four out right now playing the final four in, a play-in to form a regular 16-team field.

Some reports have put the most favored scenario at a 22-team field, which would add in all teams within six games of a playoff berth — bringing the Wizards and Suns into the mix. There was talk of inviting the top 24 teams, but that had little support.

The only way the Knicks could make it is if the top 12 from each conference were included.

Silver will have to decide not just how many teams will be allowed in the bubble but how to start up play. There has been talk of a World Cup-type group stage, although the league is likely to be cautious about taking away the reward of the performance of some of the top teams in the regular season that was completed.

Here’s the simple truth about the simplest way back — keep it at 16 teams and tell those who are grumbling to play better next time.

Is celebrity row over?

One thing the NBA will have to deal with is not only getting on the court but who will be near the court next season.

That means you, high-priced courtside ticket-holders.

It’s too soon to tell how the league will handle it; it’s still trying to manage its way through the resumption of this season, which will occur without fans in the building. But the reason the NBA was willing to push back the start of next season was that it hoped to delay it enough for a vaccine to be ready or to have the virus contained well enough to let fans in the building again.

But how can the league allow fans to take those seats next to the bench, sometimes so close that it’s hard to tell when the last assistant coach or staff member ends and the fans begin?

The teams want fans back in the building with good reason — it provides a nice payday, not just in ticket prices but in merchandise sales. But the ticket prices can be astronomical.

So how do teams handle it? If they don’t let them sit there, do they move those season-ticket holders back a few rows? And then do the same with everyone behind them?

The Knicks have tried to push fans who were due refunds to turn those refunds into tickets for next season — offering gifts for signing on. But just what or where those fans will be allowed to be seated is just another question for the NBA.

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