After weeks of brainstorming and theorizing about various return-to-play scenarios, the NBA Board of Governors is expected to vote on, and pass, a 22-game format to finish the 2019-20 regular season on Thursday, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Under this new format, the 16 current playoff teams, as well as teams currently within six games of the eighth seeds in both conferences, will play an eight-game regular season before possibly competing in a play-in tournament and starting the playoffs.
Here’s what it all means for the Pacers:
When will the NBA be back in action?
Per Wojnarowski, teams will begin training at team sites in July and advance to full training camp in Orlando later that month with games expected to run from July 31-October 12 — a timeline which suggests that teams will be playing every other day in a condensed window similar to Summer League.
So, players could end up being lodged at a neutral site for nearly three months?
Apparently. The league’s usage of the term “campus environment” suggests that players won’t be quarantined in a strict medical bubble, but they’ll still be displaced from their regular living arrangements for an extended period while attempting to stay healthy.
Whether any of this is wise or not is a whole different question and one better answered by qualified medical professionals; however, it would nonetheless be interesting to know if players who own property in Orlando — like, say, the Magic or Victor Oladipo — will be permitted to commute back and forth from home.
How will remaining schedules be balanced?
For the sake of preventing cross-contamination before the playoffs, it seems like it would’ve made sense to try to avoid inter-conference competition if at all possible. Conveniently, since only nine teams are invited from the East (i.e. the eight current playoff teams plus Washington), they could’ve kept things nice and tidy and just played each other once each.
Instead, Yahoo’s Vincent Goodwill reports that the plan is for teams to continue with their original schedules and simply move onto the next game if a team isn’t on campus.
If that turns out to be the case, the Pacers will face a tougher schedule than they would have if the season had resumed as normal with all 30 teams. For instance, rather than playing five games at home, including two against Golden State and Cleveland, Indiana will now tack on games against the Lakers and Clippers. Of course, given that the Lakers have a 5.5-game cushion atop the West, one could argue that playing a team that doesn’t have much to play for at the end of the schedule could end up being an advantage. Overall, though, the difference in combined winning percentage between what would’ve been (.459) and what will now be (.576) is nonetheless sizable.
Plus, there’s a hitch. According to that plan, Indiana’s full schedule would be as follows: Sixers, Heat, Suns, Magic, Rockets, Kings, Lakers, and Clippers. Now, take a look at the would-be slate for Miami. Under the same format, the Heat would need to play the Bucks, Pacers, Thunder, Nuggets, Suns, Celtics, Pacers (again), and Celtics (again), which would obviously create a scheduling conflict because the Pacers would already have eight games in before getting to that second meeting with the Heat. Something’s going to have to give.
Do the regular season games count toward seeding?
Yes. Aside from the possible play-in tournament, which will come into play if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind the eighth seed, the eight-game slate could also end up shuffling the standings for teams within reasonable striking distance of one another.
For the Pacers, this means the “race” for the No. 4 seed with Miami and Philadelphia is still on. Since the rest of the season is going to be completed at Walt Disney World, there’s probably not going to be any real material “advantage” to home-court advantage; however, holding steady in the 4-5 hole or sliding to sixth will obviously still have an impact on who plays who and what side of the bracket everybody ends up on.
In the event of a tie, Miami can’t lose out on the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Pacers with a 2-0 series lead and would own the second tiebreaker as the probable Southeast Division winner.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, trails Indiana 2-1 in the regular season-series and could even things up in the last meeting. Being in different divisions, and with neither team in position to win their division, the next tiebreaker would be in-conference record. On that front, Philly currently holds a slight edge over the Pacers with two more wins and more games left to play against the East. That said, the Sixers have already lost the head-to-head tiebreaker against Miami and it remains to be seen how the Home Sixers-Road Sixers paradox will play out at a neutral site, so unless they really want to avoid Boston in the first-round, there probably isn’t much incentive for Philly to press to get into Milwaukee’s side of the bracket.
Is the playoff format the same?
Yes, according to the NYT’s Marc Stein, best-of-seven game series will stay in place for every round of the playoffs. With conferences also still intact, this means the Pacers will face off against a more familiar foe in the first round rather than the Denver Nuggets in a re-seeded format — which, in all honesty, is probably a good thing given the way in which the shape-shifting Murray-Jokic pick-and-roll gave the Pacers fits down the stretch of the fourth-quarter on January 2.
Does the NBA still have a lot to iron out with regard to safety protocols and how all of this is going to work?
Yes, yes it does.