What could 22-team NBA return look like this summer? Return vote coming Thursday

Kawhi Leonard (left) and James Harden (right). (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

The NBA board of governors is expected to approve the league’s return-to-play proposal on Thursday, ushering in the official comeback of basketball this season after play was suspended on March 11 due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Most of the parameters of the NBA’s return is already known. The plan is for games to be played and teams to be hosted exclusively in Orlando, FL, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Walt Disney World Resort with games beginning on July 31. 

While the format of play upon the game’s return has not been confirmed, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported throughout the week that the league is leaning toward a 22-team field. 

Those 22 teams would play in eight regular-season games to decipher the final postseason seedings in each conference, per Wojnarowski.

Here is the current playoff seeding when play was halted on March 11:

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

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

As for the other six teams that will be invited to play in Orlando, they would have to be six games behind the No. 8 seed of each conference or less. 

It just so happens that five of them — the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns — are from the West. The Washington Wizards are the only team from the East that were within six games of the No. 8 Magic (5.5 GB). 

If the No. 9 seed of a conference is more than four behind the No. 8 seed by the end of the regular-season schedule, that eighth seed automatically makes the playoffs. If that team is fewer than four games back, however, there will be a play-in tournament that will be double-elimination for the No. 8 seed and single-elimination for the No. 9 seed.

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