NBA should preserve competition for playoff seeding

The NBA is considering many options to resume its season. It needs to make sure the playoff chase is preserved without gimmicks.

The NBA has been on hiatus for more than a month now.

It feels a whole lot longer than that since March 12 when the league suddenly shuttered itself amid the coronavirus pandemic. The league, like the rest of the world, has been patiently waiting for when it can return.

The league is still working out how it will return as much as whether it will return.

With businesses and states beginning to reopen as the nation gets a handle on the pandemic, it’s looking like there will be a conclusion to the season. However, there is no definite answer for what the end of the season will bring.

The league appears to be examining everything to map their return. They are considering placing teams in a bubble, reportedly receiving offers from Las Vegas to block off an entire portion of the strip to host the season’s finale and discussing finishing the year at Walt Disney World Resort in a similar manner.

While the league is remaining cautious about advancing further — including reopening training facilities where state regulations allow May 8 — they also seem very determined to finish the season in some capacity. Commissioner Adam Silver is balancing a lot of interests all the while conditions on the ground change state-by-state.

NBPA president Chris Paul has made it clear, the players will not play without a measured run-up to restart the season. The players want to make sure they have time to get back into basketball shape before high-intensity games resume.

It is clear that we are still a long way off from restarting the season. The league wants to make sure players are safe and healthy before starting. And that likely means there needs to be a widespread testing regime that is accessible not only to players but the public too — the NBA does not want public blowback again from their easy access to testing like in mid-March.

Until then, they wait just like everyone else. They wait and they plan.

There have been many options presented to finish the season and get to the all-important Playoffs.

Among the ideas to complete the season are playing 10 regular-season games for each team to finish the year and then going to the playoffs after. There are thoughts of conducting a play-in tournament and giving every team a chance to make the playoffs — sort of as an excuse for dragging teams far out of the race a reason to quarantine themselves for however long it takes to finish the year.

Canceling the season and start the season directly with playoffs is another idea that has been discussed. But that idea is not likely to gain traction with concerns over player health and team readiness for such intense games.

The best of these options is to provide some final bit of the regular season to resolve these playoff races that respects the regular season. But the league should not give already-eliminated teams an equal chance at advancing, even with how odd the end of this season is likely to be.

The league should avoid canceling the season and moving directly to the Playoffs since there are still teams that had a chance to make the field. There were several teams that not only felt they could move up or down within the playoff standings. But, especially in the Western Conference, there was a heated race for the final playoff spot that had a very good chance of coming down to the final days of the season.

I would argue for a solution that eliminates the teams that had no realistic chance of making the playoffs before the season got postponed. If the league wanted to do a play-in tournament style, it should only include teams that had a chance to make the postseason.

In the East, that would eliminate all of the teams outside of the top eight seeds as the Washington Wizards are in ninth but are behind 5.5 games from the final playoff spot with only 18 games left to play.

Then in the Western Conference, this would eliminate the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. The San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers would still have a chance to compete. The Spurs are in the worst position, but they still had 19 games to play and they are four games behind for the final spot.

The rest of the league should be allowed to play for positioning, as there is still a lot to play for.

This would avoid teams that played with an easier strength of schedule earlier in the year to benefit from this stoppage in play.

There are examples of this in both respective conferences. According to the Power Rankings Guru, the Memphis Grizzlies have the hardest remaining schedule while the San Antonio Spurs (15), Sacramento Kings (16), Portland Trail Blazers (21) and New Orleans Pelicans (30) have easier schedules.

Then in the East, an example would be between the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets for the seventh seed. Brooklyn has the 11th-hardest schedule, while Orlando ranks 25th. The Nets hold a half-game lead on the Magic for the seventh seed — the two teams were scheduled to play each other twice before the season was put on hold. A lot is at stake as getting eighth would probably end up in quick series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

It would be wrong to deny those teams the right to compete, especially since there have been teams that have had easier roads (statically) so far. There should be a way for the teams to compete for those spots.

There are multiple solutions for these teams to compete for the final spots, but I would argue to input a system that allows the teams that are competing for the same spot to play each other for the spot. If the league is determined to have a play-in tournament, this is the best way to do so.

This would limit the number of games played before the playoffs begin and still give the outside teams the chance to get into the playoffs.

While there is not a clear indication of what the NBA will decide to do with the season, there are multiple ways to conclude the season, and it will be interesting to see what the end of the season brings one way or another.

Next: Early draft options for the Orlando Magic

The league is still formulating its final plans and moving cautiously to reopen. Everything is seemingly on the table. But the league has to respect the season before moving on to the Playoffs.

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