The Raptors' title defence could take place in Disney World
NBA approves return-to-play format with 22 teams competing in Florida
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Basketball is coming back on July 31 — at least, that's the plan.
On Thursday, the NBA's board of governors approved a return format that includes 22 teams playing in Orlando's Disney World, and a potential Game 7 of the Finals on Oct. 12. The Players Association is reportedly expected to rubber stamp the format on Friday.
Here's everything else you need to know:
Who's coming back?
Every team that occupied a playoff spot or was within six games of one when the season paused. That means just nine East teams are headed to Florida, while 13 from the West move on. In order of standings:
East: Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards.
West: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns.
Those are also the top 22 teams by record as of March 12.
Who's not coming back?
The next event for the eight teams excluded from Disney World (Hornets, Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, Hawks, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, Warriors) is the draft lottery on Aug. 25, which will also include the six teams who return, but miss the playoffs. The draft is scheduled for Oct. 15.
The NBA approved an Oct. 18 date to open free agency, and a Dec. 1 opening night for the 2020-21 season.
The end of the Hawks' campaign means that Vince Carter, who already announced this would be his last year, has played his final NBA game.
What's the format?
First off, there's eight games for each team to complete the regular season. That means teams won't finish with an equal number of games played. As always, winning percentage determines seeding. The league did not reveal specific team schedules.
The eight games are followed by the usual playoffs, with a small twist. If No. 9 sits within four games of No. 8, they'll reportedly play a two-game series in which the lower seed must win both games while the higher seed needs just one victory to advance.
From there, it's your regular four rounds of best-of-seven playoff basketball. Given the dates, a team could theoretically play as many as 38 games in 74 days.
Where does that leave the Raptors?
The defending champions have the sixth-best odds on multiple betting sites to repeat, with an implied win probability of roughly five per cent.
Sportsbooks have likely MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's Bucks listed as favourites, followed by LeBron James' Lakers and Kawhi Leonard's Clippers. The Rockets and Celtics are also ahead of the Raptors. Sports betting site The Action Network has updated odds listed here.
Still, the Raptors have a few things going for them. Their combination of youth (Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam) and experience (Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol) should help weather some lingering concerns from the four-month layoff. Nick Nurse has proven his ability to creatively adapt gameplans — remember the Raptors' infamous box-and-one defence against Steph Curry? And the Raptors' core has spent enough time together that on-court chemistry should quickly return.
Conversely, the Raptors will likely lose two rounds of guaranteed home-court advantage. Their current first-round opponent is Brooklyn, who could have Kyrie Irving, but probably not Kevin Durant, back from injury. The Magic, last year's first-round matchup, linger just behind the Nets.
What about the pandemic?
Twenty-two teams means about 330 players — not to mention coaches and management, plus the reported option to bring family. Bottom line: it's a lot of risk to bring into Disney World, and it's a lot of people to keep contained beyond that.
The decision to bring Washington and Phoenix — teams with minuscule chances of making the playoffs in just eight games — has already come under some scrutiny due to the relative risk of inviting more people into the quarantine versus maintaining the integrity of the season.
Florida also experienced its highest total of daily new COVID-19 cases on Thursday since reporting began at 1,419. As with the NHL, there is no guarantee the return happens. The league is reportedly still working on a "lengthy" medical protocol for dealing with the virus.