It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA has a plan in place for 22 teams to return to action in Orlando, Florida, on July 31st.
Thirteen of those teams hail from the Western Conference and nine are from the Eastern Conference. Each team will play eight regular season games at a neutral site.
Each of the 22 teams will play eight regular season games in Orlando for seeding purposes for the playoffs, sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 3, 2020
If, at the end of the eight contests, the ninth-seeded squad is within four games of the team residing in the eighth slot, then a play-in tournament will take place.
For the 8-seed, this tournament is double elimination. This means the ninth-seeded team must win twice while the eighth seed would only have to win once in their head-to-head matchup after the final eight regular season games have concluded.
However, if the team sitting in the eighth position has more than a four-game advantage, then they would automatically fill the last remaining seat at the table and gear up for their conference’s No. 1 seed.
Play-in tournament in NBA's 22-team format would only be for 8th seed, per sources:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 3, 2020
– If 9th seed is 4 or more games back, 8th seed earns spot
– If 9th seed is 4 or fewer games behind, play-in: Single-elimination for 9th seed, double-elimination for 8th.https://t.co/d7X3X6d1p8
As it stands today, the Memphis Grizzlies hold a 3.5-game lead over Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento. The Spurs are hot on their tails at just four games back while the Suns, who squeaked in, need a miracle at six games behind the Grizzlies. Minnesota and Golden State were the odd men out.
Initially, it is easy for Grizzlies fans to be upset at this format. Why not just save the time and trouble and jump straight into the playoffs?
Looking at Memphis’ remaining 17 games before COVID-19 put a halt to the season, the Grizz were in the midst of arguably the most difficult final 20 games a team would play across the entire NBA.
In fact, 16 of those 17 opponents are all still currently alive in the 22-team format (sorry Knicks). Five of those games come against teams that will be chasing the Grizzlies for that coveted 8-seed.
This is an important point. Grizzlies were already going to play a tough stretch of games, many on the road. Now NOLA is going to see its schedule – the easiest remaining on paper – toughen, while the Grizzlies would stay the same (and improve, replacing road gms w neutral ones). https://t.co/fNmESAavza— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) June 3, 2020
While it would be nice to just walk in to the postseason and get the playoffs underway as soon as possible, it is reasonable for Adam Silver to allow some of those teams to have their shot at making that final push to get a play-in game.
At the time of the league-wide pause, the Grizzlies were missing three key pieces that would have been paramount for the team to finish off a strikingly impressive regular season. Those players are Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and Justise Winslow, who still has yet to suit up for the Grizz since being acquired in the trade for Andre Iguadala.
These three players will have had over four months of rest by the time games resume. At the very least, Jackson Jr. and Clarke will be ready to roll. Winslow, on the other hand, is still a bit of a mystery as he has battled a lingering back injury all year long. But it isn’t too far-fetched to say that he will enter this postseason as healthy as he has been all season.
With a healthy roster, Memphis has proven they can play with anybody. The Grit N’ Grind mentality did not skip over this squad. Being handed an automatic bid into the postseason goes against the tenacious style this Grizzlies team has embodied all season.
It just doesn’t fit this group. This scrappy bunch, including a couple of budding stars, has been forced to earn everything they have gotten this season. Why would that change now?
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver probably DOES want Zion Williamson’s Pelicans in that last spot. Hell, he would probably be fine if Portland made the jump. The Grizzlies are being given nothing, they haven’t been given a thing since arriving to the 901 in 2001.
Grizzlies’ next and final 8 games based on @VinceGoodwill reporting:— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 3, 2020
The 22 teams will each have eight and half weeks to properly prepare for what will indubitably be the strangest eight games in NBA history. That should be enough time for fans to understand this unique format.
Basketball is coming back. And it is still Memphis vs. Everybody.
Feature image via (Brandon Dill / Getty Images).