A Look at the New NBA 22-Team Format

Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets defends Sterling Brown #23 of the Milwaukee Bucks at Pepsi Center

On March 11, the NBA season was paused indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wednesday evening games were primed to start when Ruby Gobert’s preliminary tests came back positive, just moments before tipoff in the Jazz-Thunder game in Oklahoma City. All evening games were postponed, and although there was hope that the league would continue behind closed doors, it was simply deemed not safe to do so.

It’s been three long months since NBA fans have had basketball games to look forward to, but there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel.

On Thursday, June 4, the Board of Governors for the NBA approved the restart of the 2019-2020 season with a competitive format including 22 teams. The season restart is set to take place at the Walt Disney Resort near Orlando, Florida.

Although this is just the first step of many, it’s the first tangible piece of hope for players, fans, and everyone else waiting for the NBA to resume. The league association and the players association are still ironing out the details on how they are going to ensure optimum player safety when the season restarts. They are consulting with public health experts, infectious disease specialists, and the government to ensure that any COVID-19 risk is mitigated. 

First, let’s delve into the standings of the 2019-2020 season when it was paused and then go into an in-depth explanation of the new 22-team format, and which teams have been positively and negatively affected by the return to play format.

The league as it stands

As of March 11, when the season was paused, the standings were as follows:

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
  2. Toronto Raptors (46-18)
  3. Boston Celtics (43-21)
  4. Miami Heat (41-24)
  5. Indiana Pacers (39-26)
  6. Philadelphia 79ers (39-26)
  7. Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
  8. Orlando Magic (30-35)
  9. Washington Wizards (24-40)
  10. Charlotte Hornets (23-42)
  11. Chicago Bulls (22-43)
  12. New York Knicks (21-45)
  13. Detroit Pistons (20-46)
  14. Atlanta Hawks (20-47)
  15. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
  2. Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
  3. Denver Nuggets (43-22)
  4. Utah Jazz (41-23)
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
  6. Houston Rockets (40-24)
  7. Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
  9. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)
  10. New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
  11. Sacramento Kings (28-36)
  12. San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
  13. Phoenix Suns (26-39)
  14. Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45)
  15. Golden State Warriors (15-50)

What is the new format?

The NBA Board of Governors has approved a format that includes 22 teams. The first 16 teams will be those that are in the top eight in their conference, who are already poised in playoff positions.

The other six teams will be made up of teams that are currently six games or fewer behind the playoff positions. This means that all 22 teams will be the teams that have the best records for the season. 

The teams not included in the season restart will go straight into the NBA lottery.

Which teams will take part?

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles down the court in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers

This new format means that the top eight teams from both conferences will be in the restart. They are:

Eastern Conference

  1. Eastern Conference
  2. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
  3. Toronto Raptors (46-18)
  4. Boston Celtics (43-21)
  5. Miami Heat (41-24)
  6. Indiana Pacers (39-26)
  7. Philadelphia 79ers (39-26)
  8. Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
  9. Orlando Magic (30-35)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
  2. Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
  3. Denver Nuggets (43-22)
  4. Utah Jazz (41-23)
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
  6. Houston Rockets (40-24)
  7. Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
  9. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)
  10. New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
  11. Sacramento Kings (28-36)
  12. San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
  13. Phoenix Suns (26-39)

Because of the way the competition has been structured, it means that the other six teams joining those already in the playoff spots won’t be equal from both conferences. In fact, the Eastern Conference will only have nine teams in the restart, whereas the Western Conference will have 13, based on the season record.

These are the teams that will be joining the teams already in the playoff spots:

Eastern Conference

9. Washington Wizards (24-40)

Western Conference

9. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)

10. New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)

11. Sacramento Kings (28-36)

12. San Antonio Spurs (27-36)

13. Phoenix Suns (26-39)

How will the games work?

All teams involved in the restart will play eight seeding games. There may also be a play-in tournament for the final playoff seed (eighth) for each conference which combines records from the regular season and how they fared in the restart seeding games. There will be so much opportunity to bet on NBA games!

Once the 16 playoff teams have been set, the rest of the season will follow the traditional playoff route. It will include the usual conference-based format with four rounds and a best-of-seven series in each of these rounds. The plan is to hold the finals no later than October 12.

How will the lottery teams be determined?

The first round draft board seen during 2019 NBA Draft at Barclays Center

The NBA Lottery teams will be made up of the eight teams that don’t play a part in the season restart and the six teams that do not qualify for the playoffs in the restart. Their lottery seeding and odds will be based on their regular-season records up to March 11.

The order of the draft will be in reverse of these teams’ records in regular-season and seeding games.

Which teams don’t make the season restart?

Unfortunately, the new 22-team format means that the Hornets, Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, Hawks, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Warriors will not play again this season.

Who are the winners and losers from the new format?

While there are plenty of winners and losers from the new 22-team restart plans, these are the most obvious ones:

Winners

  • Fans: The fans and the NBA are undoubted winners when it comes to the season restart. Everyone will be looking forward to being able to watch their teams play again.
  • Golden State Warriors: They Warriors won’t play again this season, but that isn’t a bad thing for them. They have a slate of injuries, especially Klay Thompson, that will be able to recover at home for next season. They will be able to add to their team with their lottery pick and have the time to reset for a better 2020-2021 season.
  • Zion Williamson: The race for Rookie of the Year seemed set to go to Ja Morant if the season was canceled outright. There is no taking away from his incredible season, but his rival Williamson happened to miss out on 44 games. The return to play gives Williamson more time to build on his run for the award.
  • LA Clippers: The Clippers have an in-depth team that isn’t as reliant on their superstars as others. However, Kawhi Leonard missed 13 games and Paul George missed 22, and with their strong standings, the eight seeding games offer them vital time for their best players to gel together before inevitably going into the playoffs.
  • Memphis Grizzlies: Although the Grizzlies held a 3.5-game lead, they had the toughest game schedule in the league towards the tail end of the season. New Orleans and Portland both had easy games and could certainly have gained momentum. The new format puts this to bed, as the lower teams won’t even be in the running — and that means New Orleans and Portland are going to be on a more level playing field.

Losers

  • Whoever loses the final: The break between the final and the new season is a little over a month, and this means that the losers of the final are going to have to deal with fatigue, as well as a demoralizing loss going into the new season.
  • Bucks and Lakers: The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers are both sitting at No 1 seed for their conference and with the way these teams are playing, it seems unlikely that this will change. They would normally be able to look forward to home-court advantage, but they will now have to take on stronger opponents, as the bottom teams aren’t in the season, and they will be playing on neutral ground.
  • Utah Jazz: Utah has faced Houston in every postseason since 2017, but if the top 16 teams went into the playoffs, they would’ve avoided meeting them for the first time in years. Bojan Bogdanovic is out injured and if they slip to 7 then they could face the Clippers. If they do play well and stay where they are, then Houston still has eight games to set up a No.4 vs. No.5 match that the Jazz would have liked to avoid.

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