Trail Blazers To Play in 22-Team Restart In Orlando With A Chance At Playoffs
(Ed. note: this post has been updated to reflect the NBA board of governors approved the 22-team restart Thursday morning)
The Portland Trail Blazers are coming back.
After a vote of the NBA's board of governors the NBA, the league has announced that they will restart their 2019-20 season with 22 teams, a group that includes the Trail Blazers, at Disney World in Orlando on July 31. The proposal passed by a vote of 29-1, with the Trail Blazers being the only team voting no (the reason, I have been told, being that they simply felt other proposals were superior).
Here's how it works. the NBA is taking 16 teams in the Top 8 of their respective conferences at the time of the suspension -- the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder, Rockets, Mavericks and Grizzlies in the West and the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Heat, Pacers, 76ers, Nets and Magic in the East -- and six additional teams -- the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs and Suns in the West and the Wizards in the East -- that were in the race for the final playoff spots.
Then there's the format. Each team will play eight "regular season" games, roughly half the number of games teams had left in their 2019-20 schedules, with the Top 7 teams from each conference automatically qualifying for the postseason. Reports do not indicate that the teams will be re-seeded, an approach people in and around the league have been floating for some time.
But in an effort to make it fair to teams, such as the Trail Blazers, that were not in the Top 8 at the time of the postponement but within reach of qualifying for the playoffs, there will be a "play-in tournament" between the teams in eighth and ninth if the teams in eighth have less than a four-game lead in the standings after the eight-game restart. As in, if the Trail Blazers finish 3 games behind, say, the Grizzlies, they will play one or two games (more on that in a second) to decide which team gets the eight-seed and which team misses the postseason.
As for the schedule, each team will play their remaining games against the team in Orlando, with a few minor changes, which are necessary due to the fact that some teams do not have have eight games remaining on their original regular season schedule against teams going to Orlando, while other teams have more.
And here's how that "play-in" works. The teams in eighth and ninth play one game, and if the team in eighth wins, they advance to the playoffs while the team in ninth is eliminated. If the team in ninth wins the first game, the teams play again, with the winner of the second game advancing and the loser going home. So that's a long-winded way of saying it's double elimination for the team in eight and single elimination for the team in ninth. After that, it's on to the postseason, which is unchanged from the standard best-of-seven format.
The Trail Blazers, Pelicans and Kings are all three and a half games behind the Grizzlies for the last playoff spot in the West, while the Spurs are four games back and the Suns six. The Grizzlies are the only team that any of the teams not currently in the Top 8 can catch with eight games to play, which was presumably one of the reasons they went with that number. Not sure how tiebreakers will work -- or if they're even mathematically possible -- but one imagines these, and a number of other minor issues, will be relatively easy to figure out.
So while they might have a tough road ahead, the Trail Blazers will have something to play for (which is all Damian Lillard wanted). While every team will have to shake off the rust -- teams will start holding training camps at their own facilities in mid-July before moving on to Orlando to finish out training before the start of games -- every team will also be healthier after what will be over three months of relative inactivity. But the Trail Blazers might have the largest infusion of talent of any team going to Orlando with the returns of both Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.
As with everything during a pandemic, these plans are subject to change and there are certainly some details which will need to be worked out, but if all goes according to plan, the Trail Blazers will play their first game since March 10 in Orlando at the end of July and will have a legitimate chance to qualify for the postseason.