Impact of the Approved NBA Restart on the Lakers
On Thursday afternoon, the NBA announced the approval by the Board of Governors of a competitive format to restart the season with 22 teams, starting tentatively on July 31.
How does that impact the Lakers specifically? Let’s discuss.
First and foremost, the NBA and NBPA have been spending considerable time “with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices,” the release states. Naturally, the safety of all involved in a return is of paramount importance.
Towards that end, all practices and games will be played at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, with each team housed on campus until the East and West winners meet in the NBA Finals, which would end no later than Oct. 12.
The 22 returning teams include the 16 currently in playoff position, plus one Eastern team (WAS), and five Western teams (POR, NOP, SAC, SAS, PHX) with a mathematical chance to qualify considering that each team will play eight games.
Those eight games are denoted as “seeding games,” as they will count in the final standings and determine the specific 1-8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5 matchups in each conference towards what will be a fully loaded postseason, with each round going seven games if needed.
That means the 49-14 Lakers, who built a 5.5-game lead over current No. 2 seed LAC (44-20), have a very strong opportunity to lock in the No. 1 seed.
In short, if the Lakers go .500 (4-4), they’ll be the No. 1 seed even if the LAC (44-20) go 8-0 to reach 52-20. Or, if the Clippers lose a game, but Denver (42-33) goes 8-0 to reach 51-22, the Lakers would need only two wins to get to 51-22, since LAL have the head-to-head tiebreaker over DEN.
So, if the Lakers are indeed able to secure the No. 1 seed, their Round 1 opponent is more up in the air because of a possible play-in tournament for the No. 8 and No. 9 playoff seeds.
Here’s how the NBA explained it:
If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference, then the team with the eighth-best record would earn the eighth playoff seed. If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference (Team A) is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference (Team B), then Teams A and B would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed. To earn the eighth playoff seed, Team A would need to defeat Team B once and Team B would need to defeat Team A two games in a row.
Let’s dig in using the current standings. Right now, MEM holds the No. 8 seed by 3.5 games over POR, NOP and SAC, all tied in the standings, and 4 games over SAS, and 6 over PHX. If the Grizzlies are able to actually increase their lead over each team by at least 4 games, they’d be locked into the No. 8 spot, and wouldn’t need a playoff.
If Memphis* holds onto the No. 8 seed but a team below them is within four games, then they’d face off in the mini tournament. MEM would need to beat that No. 9 seed just one time, while the No. 9 seed would need to beat MEM twice in order to take over the final playoff position. This is the NBA’s way of accounting for the current lead in the standings, and the fact that there won’t be a true home court advantage on the neutral court.
*MEM (32-33) trails No. 7 seed Dallas (40-27) by seven games, so it’s extremely unlikely they’d be able to move up, as they’d have to go 8-0, and Dallas 0-8.
Of course, one of the teams currently below MEM could certainly overtake them for the No. 8 position. Say POR (29-37) goes 6-2, improving to 35-39 … MEM would have to go 4-4 (36-37) to avoid a win percentage tiebreaker since POR has played more games.
That battle for No. 8 will all play out naturally, and perhaps quite dramatically. But if you listened to Frank Vogel and LeBron James speak all season, you know they’re only interesting in what’s directly in front of them.
That means taking it, proverbially, one game at a time. Granted, they do have a few things going for them, most notably, they don’t have the pressure to win games for seeding purposes like many other teams, and can focus at least in part on using the eight regular season games to prepare their bodies for the looming postseason.
Furthermore, since they’ve been off since early March, Vogel’s already had his assistant coaches prepare extensively for potential/likely playoff opponents.
We have to assume that the standings will also see considerable fluctuation from 2-7, especially with No. 6 HOU (40-24) within only 2.5 games of No. 3 DEN.
With all of that hopefully coming in the months ahead, for now, most teams like the Lakers continue to be restricted to individual workouts at their respective facilities.
Recent Stories on Lakers.com