The NBA is back! The league announced their Board of Governors gave the go-ahead on a plan to restart the 2019-20 season with 22 teams resuming play on July 31. The Milwaukee Bucks (obviously) included.
The regular season will return on July 31 with teams heading to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Each team will play eight regular season games; likely against the next eight opponents on their schedule using just the 22 teams still in contention. Although there are some details that need to be worked out depending on each team’s slate, here’s the Bucks’ (potential) eight matchups in the revamped season: Celtics, Heat, Grizzlies, Wizards, Rockets, Wizards, Mavericks.
After a couple of weeks of regular season play, there is the potential for a play-in tournament for the eighth seed in each conference. If the ninth-placed team is within four games of the final playoff spot, they get to play the eighth-seeded team. If the ninth seed wins, they play one more game and the winner takes all and advances to the actual first round of the postseason. If the ninth seed loses that first game, the eighth seed advances.
The playoffs will begin like normal following the play-in tournament. There will be three rounds of best of seven series in each conference before the NBA Finals takes place.
Timeline Of The Return To Play Plan
March 11th: NBA play was suspended.
June 30th: Training camp begins in each of the team’s cities.
July 7th: All teams will fly to Orlando to quarantine.
July 31st: Eight-game regular season will begin. The regular season will run for 16 days with five-to-six games a day. The games count toward the regular season standings and a potential play-in tournament for the eighth seed in each conference.
August 25th: NBA Draft Lottery
October 12th: Potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals
October 15th: NBA Draft
October 18th: Beginning of NBA Free Agency
November 10th: Start of 2020-21 Training Camp
December 1st: Start of 2020-21 Regular Season
*All dates are subject to change; especially the beginning of next season as those still need to be approved, and possibly negotiated, by the NBPA.
Now that we know the details, let’s take a look at how this format positively or negatively affects the Bucks.
Pro: Almost Guaranteed Top Spot In The East
Given there are only eight regular season games in this plan and the Bucks are 6.5 ahead of the Toronto Raptors in the East, it would take a disastrous miracle for Milwaukee not to finish with the top spot. At the beginning of play, their magic number is two meaning they need some combination of at least two Raptors’ losses or Bucks’ victories to clinch the no. 1 seed.
Although the top seed doesn’t mean as much as a normal season (more on that in a moment), it would guarantee they’re likely to play the Orlando Magic or Washington Wizards in the first round. Also, they’d avoid the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors in the second round if the standings hold.
Con: Lose Home Court Advantage
The Bucks were 28-3 at the Fiserv Forum this season; only the 76ers had a better home record (29-2) and no other team had fewer than five home losses. With all the games being played in Orlando, home court records are null.
Not being able to play in front of their home crowd is a damaging blow to their chances to win an NBA Finals according to ESPN’s BPI. One day after the season was suspended on March 12th, BPI gave the Bucks a 73 percent chance to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. Now, that chance is all the way down to 60 percent due to the Bucks’ home record.
Milwaukee worked extremely hard all season long to put themselves in a position to earn home court advantage throughout the playoffs for the second straight year. However, after play was suspended, it was inevitable games wouldn’t be played in front of fans, and, no matter the format, this was going to be a natural consequence of the global pandemic.
Pro: The Conferences Stay The Same
Throughout the suspension, there were rumors the NBA was considering different types of formats including reseeding teams 1-16 irregardless of conference or pool play where they would separate teams into different groups based on standings. Each of those scenarios presented potential possibilities the Bucks would have to face more difficult opponents along the way, including potentially both the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers if they ultimately wanted to win the NBA Finals.
By sticking within the Eastern Conference, it’s guaranteed Milwaukee won’t have to face the Clippers or Lakers—the two other title favorites along with the Bucks—until the NBA Finals.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying their path to a championship will be easy just because they only have to play Eastern Conference teams. The Raptors, Celtics, Heat and 76ers are all formidable foes, fully capable of defeating the Bucks. It’s just anytime you can avoid the Lakers or Clippers until the last possible moment, it’s a win for your squad.
Con: Very Little Rest Between This Season And Next
IF the Bucks make it all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals, there will be very little rest between the end of the 2019-20 campaign and the beginning of the 2020-21 season. Just 22 days to be exact.
The NBPA might have something to say about this short layoff and the timelines can certainly be negotiated, but it’s unlikely the beginning of the season would be delayed much longer than December 1st. The league will at least want to start by Christmas Day—a traditionally huge television draw for them.
In a typical calendar season, players will have at least three months off between the last playoff game and training camp. This might just be an unavoidable consequence of the pandemic, but it doesn’t give Bucks’ players much time to rest their bodies before launching into another eight month Championship campaign.