The pieces are falling into place for the NBA to hit their target date of July 31 to resume play. Adrian Wojnarowski has been reporting all week that the league is expected to pass a proposed plan to have 22 teams travel to Orlando. This plan would include a play-in tournament for the last seed in each conference.
Wednesday is when the details of the plan started to leak. Shams Charania reported the exact format of the play-in, and Wojnarowski reported how many games will be played before the playoffs start. Here's how it will go down:
The 16 playoff teams, along with the next six best teams by record (the Pelicans, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Kings, Suns, and Wizards) will play eight regular-season games that will serve to both determine seeding and give everyone some warm-up games before launching into playoff basketball. Then, if the eighth and ninth seed in each conference are within four games of each other, they will play a play-in tournament that is single-elimination for the ninth seed but double-elimination for the eighth seed. So the ninth seed would have to beat the eighth seed twice to earn a playoff berth, but the eighth seed would only need to win once to secure their spot.
I, for one, am surprised the NBA decided to take the six best teams by record down to Orlando with the postseason teams rather than keeping all things equal and taking three from each conference. It's the best decision and will give us the war for the last seeds in the West that we were all looking forward to before the season was postponed. That decision also helps keep lottery complications to a minimum.
Playing eight regular season games could, however, significantly alter the playoff picture. The Bucks are firmly cemented as the top seed in the East and wouldn't lose out on that unless they went 0-8, which seems unlikely. The Raptors, Celtics, and Heat are all within five games of each other. On the other side of the country, the Clippers are only five games behind the Lakers for the top seed, with the Jazz and Nuggets only a few games behind them for the second seed.
Having a higher seed matters less this postseason because of the lack of homecourt advantage and the inability to recreate its effects in a neutral site with no fans. But the matchups could change wildly. Right now, the Celtics, for example, are set to face off with perhaps the most difficult team remaining in the field for them matchup-wise in Philadelphia. After eight games, Boston could move up to the second seed and be gifted the Brooklyn Nets (likely sans Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant). Or Philly could move up and Boston ends up with Indiana. Who ends up in the eighth seed is anyone's guess, but I would imagine LeBron James and Co. would prefer playing the bottom seed to having to go up against Luka Doncic and Dallas' dangerous offense if the Clippers overtake them.
Given all teams are facing the same difficulties as far as getting back into a rhythm, things probably won't change to an extreme degree. But a lot will be riding on those eight games regardless, and the players know it. Even if it might not be pretty basketball, it will be hard-played basketball, and it will be a sight for sore eyes.