by Cody Cunningham

Headline

Back to Basketball: How Return to Play Works
Are you ready for the Suns’ return to the hardwood? Take a deep dive into the team’s upcoming opponents, the first-of-its-kind return to play format, how to watch and more

Who’s invited: The teams with the top 22 records across the entire NBA have been invited into the Orlando bubble with a chance to compete for a spot in the playoffs. This includes the 16 teams that would currently qualify for the playoffs plus one additional team in the Eastern Conference (Washington Wizards) and five additional teams in the Western Conference (Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns), totaling nine teams from the East and 13 from the West.

Where are the games: All of the games will take place on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus in Orlando, FL at three different venues: The HP Field House, Visa Athletic Center and The Arena.

How many games: Each team will play eight seeding games leading into the postseason, closely resembling their remaining regular-season matchups before play was paused.

Who advances to the playoffs: Each team’s eight-game record will be added to their regular season record prior to the season being paused. Following the eight games, the top seven teams in each conference will automatically advance to their normal playoff seeding. However, the eighth seed in each conference will be determined by a potential play-in tournament before the traditional playoff system begins.



The eight seed tournament: If the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, no play-in tournament would be necessary. The final playoff berth would simply go to the team with the eighth-best record (regular-season games plus seeding games) in the conference.

If the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, then there will be a battle for the final spot between those two teams.

The tournament would be a best-of-two series, where the No. 9 seed would have to win two head-to-head matchups to take over the No. 8 spot. If the current No. 8 seed wins just one of the two games, they advance to the playoffs.

How can the Suns advance: While a daunting task lies ahead, the Suns can defy the odds and advance to the postseason. The Suns will have to be nearly perfect as they currently sit six games back of the current No. 8 seeded Memphis Grizzlies. If they’re able to power themselves to the No. 9 seed, within four games of the No. 8 spot, they would enter the play-in tournament with a chance to make history. If they win both games as the No. 9 seed, they would officially take over the No. 8 spot and advance to tip-off against the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket.



THE MATCHUPS: Phoenix Suns vs Washington Wizards



DATE: Friday July 31

TIME (All times are AZ local): 1 P.M.

CHANNEL: Fox Sports Arizona

RADIO: ESPN 620 AM

POTENTIAL KEY MATCHUP: Cam Johnson vs Rui Hachimura

Only five of the top twelve players selected in the 2019 NBA Draft received an invite to the NBA bubble and two of them will go head-to-head in the Suns matchup against the Washington Wizards. Cam Johnson and Rui Hachimura will have a chance to prove their worth as lottery selections as the two rookies battle it out on the prominent NBA stage. The two teams have yet to see each other since last November, in a game where Johnson provided a nice spark off the bench with 17 points.

Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks



DATE: Sunday August 2

TIME: 6 P.M.

CHANNEL: Fox Sports Arizona

RADIO: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM

POTENTIAL KEY MATCHUP: Deandre Ayton vs Luka Dončić

In another youthful matchup, two of the most thrilling players from the 2018 NBA Draft take the court as the Suns tip-off against the Dallas Mavericks. While Deandre Ayton and Luka Dončić may not be directly matched up, all eyes will be focused on the number one and number three selections from just two years ago. Ayton scored a career-high 31 points to go along with 9 rebounds, 2 steals and a block in the Suns 29-point win over the Mavericks in their last matchup on Jan. 28.

Phoenix Suns vs Los Angeles Clippers



DATE: Tuesday August 4

TIME: 1 P.M.

CHANNEL: NBA TV

RADIO: ESPN 620 AM

POTENTIAL KEY MATCHUP: Mikal Bridges vs Kawhi Leonard

A lockdown matchup. Two of the league’s most elite wing defenders will have a chance to shut the other one down as Mikal Bridges lines up opposite of Kawhi Leonard. As Bridges’ offensive game continues to improve, similarities between his growth and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year’s career path seem to continue to align. The Suns will look to even up the season series as the division rivals go head-to-head.

Phoenix Suns vs Indiana Pacers


DATE: Thursday August 6

TIME: 1 P.M.

CHANNEL: Fox Sports Arizona

RADIO: ESPN 620 AM

POTENTIAL KEY MATCHUP: Devin Booker vs Victor Oladipo

The battle of the shooting guards. Two of the league’s most premier two-guards will lead their teams onto the floor in the Suns matchup against the Pacers. All-Stars Devin Booker and Victor Oladipo will prove why they’re two of the most elite at their positions as the go-to players on their respective rosters.  The Suns will be seeking payback after falling to the Pacers in their lone matchup this season.



Phoenix Suns vs Miami Heat




DATE: Saturday August 8

TIME: 4:30 P.M.

CHANNEL: Fox Sports Arizona

RADIO: ESPN 620 AM

POTENTIAL KEY MATCHUP: Deandre Ayton vs Bam Adebayo

Arguably the two most talented young bigs will take center court to tip-off Suns vs Heat. Deandre Ayton and Bam Adebayo have quickly proven to be dominant forces on each ends of the court, despite both being only 22 years old. Ayton will look to control the paint against his counterpart after missing the first and only matchup between the two teams this season.

Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder



DATE: Monday August 10

TIME: 11:30 A.M.

CHANNEL: Fox Sports Arizona

RADIO: ESPN 620 AM

POTENTIAL KEY MATCHUP: Ricky Rubio vs Chris Paul

Few define the point guard position and create more for their teammates better than Ricky Rubio and Chris Paul. Two of the league’s most elite playmakers will lead their teams against each other as the Suns and Thunder battle it out on the hardwood. Rubio currently ranks third across the entire NBA with 8.9 assists per game as he continues to make a tremendous impact on the Suns roster in just his first season with the team.

Phoenix Suns vs Philadelphia 76ers




DATE: Tuesday August 11

TIME: 1:30 P.M.

CHANNEL: Fox Sports Arizona

RADIO: ESPN 620 AM

POTENTIAL KEY MATCHUP: Ricky Rubio vs Ben Simmons

Although there may be a six-inch, 50-pound difference between the two, Ricky Rubio and Ben Simmons are two of the best in the league at getting the most from their teammates. Whether it’s distributing or causing deflections, don’t let the lopsided size fool you, they both are equipped with some of the best hands in the league. The question comes down to who can lead their team to the advantage as the Suns vs 76ers tip-off.

Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks


DATE: Thursday August 13

TIME: TBD

CHANNEL: Fox Sports Arizona

RADIO: TBD

POTENTIAL KEY MATCHUP: Devin Booker vs Luka Dončić

All-Star vs All-Star. NBA fans will have a glimpse into the future as two of the league’s brightest stars in Devin Booker and Luka Dončić battle it out in a playoff-like scenario. In what could be the deciding game for either of the teams to advance to the actual playoffs, what better matchup is there than two of the most unstoppable offensive forces around. Launching from deep, pulling up from midrange or taking it to the glass, Booker and Dončić will showcase their elite offensive skillset as the Suns and Mavericks meet for the second time in Orlando.



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