The NBA’s Official Return-To-Play Format May Be the Best Possible Outcome for the Celtics

With all that is happening in our world today and over these last few months, the return of NBA basketball is far from the most important thing to focus on. Brad Stevens echoed that sentiment the other day when he stated that “empathy means more than basketball right now”. Across the nation, NBA players are demonstrating this by focusing their time and energy on the larger societal issues of racism, discrimination and police brutality whether it be through use of their far-reaching social platforms or by joining and leading protests as we have seen from multiple members of the Celtics. With that being said, the NBA and it’s thirty franchises did officially agree upon a plan for a return-to-play format this week with Disney World’s ESPN complex as the “bubble” venue.

The format for a return that was announced earlier this week and subsequently agreed upon in Thursday’s meeting between Adam Silver and the league’s Board of Governors is as follows:


22 teams will participate in the remainder of the season — the 8 teams from each conference that currently hold playoff, as well as the 6 teams that are currently within 6 games of the 8th seed in their respective conference. Those 6 teams, as you can see in the standings below, are Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix from the Western Conference and Washington from the Eastern Conference.

Each team will play 8 more regular season games, continuing their original regular season schedule, and skipping games against any teams that were not invited to the “bubble” to play out the remainder of the season. As some have pointed out, this format leaves the Heat and Magic needing one more game on their schedule against a team that is also in the bubble, and the Blazers and Lakers will need two more added on. How the league plans to deal with that minor issue remains to be see, but it will likely involve those teams playing each other to make up the difference.

-When the remaining 8 games have been finished, a play-in “tournament” will be held between the 8th seed and the 9th seed in each conference ONLY IF the 9th seed is within 4 games or less of the 8th seed. If the 9th seed is not within 4 games, the 8th seed will not have to earn their spot through the play in tournament.

-The play-in tournament will be single elimination for the 9th seed, and double elimination for the 8th seed.

Once any potential play-in tournaments have been completed, the league’s playoffs will proceed as usual with 1-8 seeding for each conference and 7-game series’ in each round. As for the key dates to know, Shams has us covered with a quick cheat sheet:

For the Celtics, I find this format to be one of the better possible turnouts. Had the league decided to jump straight to the playoffs without any changing of seeding, the Celtics would have faced the Sixers in the first round. Though I would have still liked their chances — especially given how bad Philly was outside of their home stadium and the fact that these games will almost certainly be played with no fans — I would still rather them face the Pacers.

Another possibility would have been for the league to seed the 16 playoff teams 1-16, regardless of conference. That format is an exciting idea that I may be able to get behind in future seasons, but it’s too big of a change for my liking during an unprecedented season that may already have some putting an asterisk next to the eventual champion. Also, if I’m being totally honest, I would have been wildly intimidated by the Celtics’ playoff bracket in that scenario which would have in all likelihood required them to beat the Sixers, Clippers and Bucks just to make it to the Finals. With the current format and the seeding of the Eastern Conference as it stands, there’s a chance that the Celtics could instead face the Pacers or a Kyrie and KD-less Nets team which is far preferable to me than either of the other options.

Many teams across the league have questions that remain to be answered about how this time off will affect certain players’ health or level of play due to rust, and the Celtics have a few of their own. Will Jayson Tatum pick back up where he left off or will the break cool him down? Will Kemba Walker’s knee be significantly helped by this rest, or will the team have to continue monitoring his minutes and usage? I for one can’t wait for these questions to be answered come August.

Photo: Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

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