Basketball is back: NBA approves 22-team return-to-play plan starting July 31

Eric Bronson-USA TODAY Sports

The plan is officially in place.

The NBA voted to approve a return-to-play plan on Thursday that will see 22 teams descend upon the league’s central hub at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL for a slate of games beginning on July 31. 

Unlike the recently-approved NHL’s plan, the NBA will not immediately jump into a postseason format. Instead, the 22 teams invited to Orlando will play eight regular-season games to determine the final playoff seedings. 

Play has been halted since March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the widespread shutdown of sports in North America. 

The final eight regular-season games will also help determine the NBA’s traditional field of 16 playoff teams — one in each conference. The six extra teams currently not in postseason positions needed to be within six games of the No. 8 spot in their respective conference to keep their seasons alive.

By that rule, the 2019-20 campaigns of the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Golden State Warriors have officially ended. 

Of the six teams currently not in playoff positions, five of them are from the Western Conference. 

Here is the official field of teams headed to Orlando and their current standings:

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks: 53-12
  2. Toronto Raptors: 46-18, 6.5 GB
  3. Boston Celtics: 43-21, 9.5 GB
  4. Miami Heat: 41-24, 12.0 GB
  5. Indiana Pacers: 39-26, 14.0 GB
  6. Philadelphia 76ers: 39-26, 14.0 GB
  7. Brooklyn Nets: 30-34, 22.5 GB
  8. Orlando Magic: 30-35, 23.0 GB
  9. Washington Wizards: 24-40, 28.5 GB

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers: 49-14
  2. Los Angeles Clippers: 44-20, 5.5 GB
  3. Denver Nuggets: 43-22, 7.0 GB
  4. Utah Jazz: 41-23, 8.5 GB
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder: 40-24, 9.5 GB
  6. Houston Rockets: 40-24, 9.5 GB
  7. Dallas Mavericks: 40-27, 11.0 GB
  8. Memphis Grizzlies: 32-33, 18.0 GB
  9. Portland Trail Blazers: 29-37, 21.5 GB
  10. New Orleans Pelicans: 28-36, 21.5 GB
  11. Sacramento Kings: 28-36, 21.5 GB
  12. San Antonio Spurs: 27-36, 22 GB
  13. Phoenix Suns: 26-39, 24 GB

The end of the impromptu regular season could provide a few more twists, however. 

If the team that finished No. 9 in the conference is within four games of the No. 8 seed, a play-in tournament will take place. 

The No. 9 seed would have to defeat the eighth seed twice-in-a-row while No. 8 would have to win just once to gain entry into the playoffs. 

Once the field is deciphered, the NBA will move to its traditional playoffs, which will run no later than October 12.