Explaining how group play should work and benefit Orlando Magic, NBA

No matter the return format, the Orlando Magic are likely staring down a playoff matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
No matter the return format, the Orlando Magic are likely staring down a playoff matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /
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Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic, Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets
The Orlando Magic were supposed to play the Brooklyn Nets twice this week and determine seventh in the East. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

My Group Play Plan

So how would group play work?

For those unfamiliar with the idea, during World Cups (both soccer and basketball), all the qualifying teams are separated into different pots for competitive balance purposes and drawn randomly into groups. Those groups inform the next rounds of the playoff.

In the initial rounds of these tournaments, teams play every team in their group once. The standings after group play is completed determines the next phase of the tournament.

The NBA is not running a straight tournament. Essentially, group play would replace the remainder of the regular season. That is the best way to create some stakes, incentivize teams outside of the playoffs and give the better teams some pressure and stakes to play out the rest of the season.

The concern with group play is the early elimination of these top teams. But I think that is easily done away with by increasing the games and giving tiebreaker/seeding advantages to the top teams.

So this is how I would set things up.

The top 10 teams from each conference head to Orlando for a total of 20 teams at Disney.

Those 10 teams in each conference are separated into two groups of five. They can either be randomly drawn with the top two teams — the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors — seeded at the top of each group or they can be placed by current standings (that would be my preference).

So your two Eastern Conference groups might look like this:

Group A          Group B
Milwaukee     Toronto
Miami              Boston
Indiana            Philadelphia
Orlando           Brooklyn
Charlotte        Washington

Some of those teams can be flipped within their seed line. I flipped the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards, for instance, to ensure the Milwaukee Bucks got the advantage of playing the worst team in the grouping.

You could easily give Milwaukee and Toronto the top seeds in the group and then do a random draw of two teams out of the next four teams and another random draw of two teams out of the bottom four teams to balance the groups and give it some element of randomness you would get from a typical closing schedule.

The teams essentially are competing only against the teams in their group the rest of the season for those Playoff spots.

This format can also be expanded to the top 12 teams in each conference for two groups of six, but that would obviously take a bit longer to complete.

The teams within each group would play every other team in the group twice. That gives everyone eight guaranteed games for the competition. That is about the number of games the league seems to be settling on to close the regular season anyway.

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The key here is how many teams advance. This is what ultimately could make the plan more palatable.

Under my plan, four of the five teams advance out of each group to give us eight teams per conference.

On its face, this is a lot of teams and not much of a competition to get out of the group stage. But that is kind of the point.

It gives a boost to the teams at the top of the standings, giving them some cushion should they come out of the gates slowly. It alleviates the concern that the Bucks could go 2-3 and somehow miss the playoffs after their masterful season.

It would take a near-complete disaster for a title-contending team to miss the actual playoffs under this format.

But at the bottom of the standings, it gives teams outside of the playoffs a chance to get in. A very real chance to get in. It forces everyone to compete from the jump and have a chance to make the final (normal) playoff field with what is left in the regular season.

And so group play balances every interest.

It allows teams to get an eight-game run-up to the playoffs to get back into rhythm before the best-of-7 series begins. It allows teams to complete their regular season with essentially even schedules with the teams they are competing with.

It gets the competitive juices flowing by giving every team something to play for and to achieve. Every team has an equal shot at making the Playoffs. But it also gives a cushion for the better teams to land on should they struggle. It would take a real disaster for them to be the last place team in each group.

And essentially by advancing four out of the five teams in each group, it should keep all five teams competitive for the entire regular season.