Brandon Ingram vies for a rebound with Lakers center Dwight Howard

For Pelicans, latter half of August will depend on Orlando performance

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

During a summer unlike any other for the league, the NBA announced that the 2020 draft lottery will be held Aug. 25, three-plus months later than it was originally scheduled. It’s going to require some work, but the goal now for the New Orleans Pelicans is to still be playing basketball on that Tuesday, instead of participating in a second straight lotto night.

Although the NBA has reiterated that the following dates are subject to change based on various factors, teams like New Orleans (28-36, 3.5 games behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference) now have a general timeframe they can expect to follow. Here’s the schedule outline for upcoming competition and what figures to be a brief “offseason” leading into the 2020-21 campaign:

Revised NBA calendar

July 30-Aug. 14: The 22 invited teams in Orlando play eight seeding games each

Aug. 15-16: Play-in round

Aug. 17-30: First round of 16-team playoffs

Aug. 25: Draft lottery

Aug. 31-Sept. 13: Conference semifinals

Sept. 15-28: Conference finals

Sept. 30-Oct. 13: NBA Finals

Oct. 16: Draft

Oct. 18: Free agency begins

Nov. 10: Training camp for 2020-21 season begins

Dec. 1: Regular season for 2020-21 season begins

As it relates specifically to the Pelicans, let’s take a closer look at some of the details on the revised docket and how it might affect NOLA’s final six months of the 2020 calendar year:

SEEDING GAMES (July 30-Aug. 14)

The NBA is expected to announce the official eight-game schedule for New Orleans and the 21 other invitees to Orlando at some point soon. With eight games being played over this 16-day period, it’s possible that the Pelicans will not have any back-to-back games, but it seems nearly impossible for the league to set up the schedule in a way that completely avoids them for all 22 clubs. An immediate goal for the Pelicans will be to finish no worse than ninth place in the West standings, which would extend their season to the play-in round (as long as they are within four games of Memphis).

PLAY-IN ROUND (Aug. 15-16)

The NBA has mapped out this potential two-game “series” for a pair of weekend dates, which opens up the option of – for example – scheduling the two contests for Saturday afternoon and Sunday night, increasing the rest time between possible back-to-back games. If the eighth-place team wins Saturday, the play-in round will be over and there won’t be a game Sunday, but if No. 9 wins Saturday, it will set up a winner-take-all matchup Sunday (maybe in prime time?).

FIRST ROUND OF PLAYOFFS (Aug. 17-30)

Given that the Los Angeles Lakers have a 5.5-game lead on the second-place Clippers atop the West standings, the winner of the 8/9 play-in round will almost certainly face the LeBron James-led squad in the 1 vs. 8 West matchup. Keep in mind, Memphis (32-33) can remove the West play-in round altogether if it finishes the seeding-games round more than four games ahead of Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix in the overall standings.

DRAFT LOTTERY (Aug. 25)

As noted above, if New Orleans is eliminated during the eight seeding games or the play-in round, the Pelicans will head to the draft lottery. Odds-wise, the eight NBA teams not invited to Orlando will fill the best eight pre-lottery slots (Golden State, Cleveland and Minnesota top that group), with spots 9-14 comprised of the six squads that compete in Orlando but do not reach the 16-team NBA playoffs. Keep in mind, at last year’s lottery, the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Lakers all won top-four picks despite pre-lottery slots of 7, 8 and 11, respectively.

DRAFT (Oct. 16)

Normally on a Thursday, the ’20 draft has been moved to a Friday, avoiding a TV conflict with football. This year’s draft picks will need to make a rapid transition to the NBA and their new jobs, because not only are there no plans for a summer league, but they could find themselves in an NBA regular season game just seven weeks after being selected.

FREE AGENCY (Oct. 18)

Normally there are 7-10 days between the draft and free agency, but that’s accelerated to a 48-hour period this time. Oct. 18 is a Sunday, setting the stage for what could be an exceptionally hectic sports day (including Week 6 of the NFL and the thick of MLB’s postseason). Free agents who sign on Day 1 will only have three-plus weeks to join their teams for training camp, instead of three months.

TRAINING CAMP (Nov. 10)

The two teams that reach the NBA Finals could face a modest break of only four weeks prior to starting ’20-21, but every player from the 22 non-conference semifinalist clubs will get all of September and October off from basketball. Nov. 10 is a Tuesday, meaning it’s likely that Media Day will be Monday, Nov. 9. Incidentally, Thanksgiving is Nov. 26.

REGULAR SEASON (Dec. 1)

New Orleans opened the current season Oct. 22, 2019, against defending NBA champion Toronto; this date represents a six-week delay to the normal start of the 82-game schedule. If all goes according to plan, Dec. 1 will mark tip-off for ’20-21. Dec. 1 is a Tuesday, the day of the week every NBA regular season has begun since ’12-13.

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