Since the NBA as established a return and announced a schedule for resume in play of the 2019-2020 season here comes the fun part. Dissecting how different the process will be with teams now playing under a bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida.
A part of the June 26th, announcement the NBA also included details that there could possibly be a play-in for the final spot in each respective conference. The first through seventh seed will be ranked based on win percentage which is slightly different from overall season records and tiebreakers. This is caused by the uneven schedule since resumption only includes eight games for each of the 22 teams headed to Orlando.
Yes, that’s right. The NBA announced per this graphic that there will be a play-in format pending the lead the 8th seed in each conference holds over the 9th seed after the final eight games are played.
On simple terms. Should the 8th seed be four games or less ahead of the 9th seed after the eight games are completed then, we’re going in for the tournament.
The 8th seed would be required to play the 9th seed and win one game. The 9th seed would have to adhere to single-elimination rules and win two games against the 8th seed to “steal” the 8th and final seed in their respective conference.
The play-in tournament seems to be the NBA’s chance for the “on the bubble” teams an opportunity to seize their chance at a playoff spot. Of course, this may be one of the strangest scenarios for the NBA as traditionally records and tiebreakers buy you the last playoff bid.
There is always the concern of player health coming off months of not playing and balancing eight games in two weeks of play. Will teams be resting players or are players willing to bring it on to work harder to get to the playoffs?
With the playing field even such as no fans, same location, and no travel, could this give the lesser seeds a better chance this season?
Let’s also factor in that playing in a single location means no true home-court advantage. Will teams fight for seeding positions due to preferred match-ups and path to the Finals?
What teams are likely to be in this scenario?
The Eastern Conference only has 9 out of the 22 teams that have been invited to the Orlando bubble. Fortunately, for the Washington Wizards, the only competition is getting ahead to the 8th seed and nobody in their rearview mirror competing for the same goal.
The Orlando Magic hold a 5.5 game lead over the Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets only hold a 1.5 game lead in the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All three teams share the potential to be in a play-in tournament.
The Western Conference is slightly more challenging. The Memphis Grizzlies sit 3.5 games ahead of the Portland Trailblazers in the 8th seed. The Trailblazers are joined by the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns that made the cut to join the Orlando bubble.
Odds for the Grizzlies to retain the 8th seed
The Grizzlies are scheduled to play three of the teams in pursuit of the 8th seed. Their first three games will be against the Trailblazers, Spurs, and Pelicans. Likelihood of the Grizzlies going 3-0 early in the restart could help create separation from the Blazers.
Does the rest of their schedule favor them to lock in the 8th seed? Perhaps if a fight for seeding breaks out between the rest of the Eastern Conference, probably not.
The final three games the Grizzlies will play include the Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks. Should the Raptors and Celtics decide on battling for the second seed there is a chance the Grizzlies could be in the crossfire especially playing each of these teams late in the schedule.
So far this season, the Grizzlies are 8-20 against teams over .500 and 24-13 against teams .500 and below. If we’re taking a literal look at this stat then, the odds are that they could have a strong start playing more inferior records and finishing up their schedule with a few losses from the Eastern’s best.
Portland will enter having arguably the most difficult schedule. They will first face the Grizzlies right off the bat. The rest of the Trailblazers schedule includes the Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers, Mavericks, and Nets. They’ll also be without Forward Trevor Ariza who opted not to return the rest of the season.
This is good news for Memphis and if the Western Conference seeding battle heats up Houston, Denver, and the Clippers could be poised to lock-in on moving up the ladder in the west.
The last concern would be the Pelicans who arguably has the easiest schedule upon returning. Only two out of the eight teams they are playing have winning records which include only the Jazz and Clippers.
The Pelicans are also playing a pool of teams that have the worse record of the 22 teams in Orlando. That means 75% of the teams they play have losing records and they have the best chance of controlling their own destiny.
New Orleans will play Memphis, San Antonio, and Sacramento who all will be competing for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Based on these factors I’d say to expect a play-in for the Western Conference. Portland and New Orleans can definitely keep close to pushing the 8th seed Grizzlies to a four-game lead or less.
Homecourt advantage for Orlando or the lack of competition?
While the Orlando Magic will have the shortest of travel to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, their odds seem to favor more or less the only team in their rearview mirror being the Washington Wizards.
The Magic currently hold a 5.5 game lead over the Wizards and the good news is John Wall has acknowledged that he will not play when the season resumes. The Wizards are coming in with the league’s worst record at 24 wins and have to play against the Pelicans and Suns who will be fighting for their own shot at the Western Conference 8th seed.
Orlando would be looking to make further advancements getting out of play-in risk. They trail the Brooklyn Nets by 1.5 games and will also play the Nets twice in their final eight games. These are two games that could distance Orlando from the 9th seed and push them over the 7th seed.
If we’re playing the odds by the 2019-2020 season so far the Magic have a 5-26 record against teams with records .500 and above. This is the worse of records out of the 22 teams scheduled to play. However, Orlando’s schedule only includes four teams with records .500 and above.
In a likely scenario, the Wizards will play the Boston Celtics in their last game which means if the Celtics find themselves in a seeding battle, by then we could know if the Wizards are eliminated from the last spot and it’s a cakewalk for Boston.
Should this scenario happen, the Nets will also play Washington once in what could be a must-win to secure their chances of avoiding the Wizards making advances to the 8th seed.
With the lack of competition in the Eastern Conference and already the Magic with a 5.5 game lead there may not be any play-in necessary. The Wizards are tasked with winning at least two or more wins than Orlando or Brooklyn in the eight-game return.
Unless Orlando or Brooklyn has a major meltdown and unable to secure three more wins there shouldn’t be any play-in tournament in the Eastern Conference.
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