The NBA appears to be nearing a firm proposal for a plan to return to play later this summer in Orlando. The expectation is that 22 teams will be invited: the 16 teams currently in playoff position, plus five bubble teams in the West and the Wizards in the East.
With a target completion date of Oct. 12 for the last possible day of the NBA Finals and a start date of July 31, there are 73 days for the league to get through the proposed eight-game, truncated close to the regular season and the playoffs. There had previously been discussion about whether the league would need to move away from best-of-seven series throughout the playoffs, returning the first round to best-of-five, but according to Marc Stein, that won’t be happening.
One key element of the NBA's return-to-play plan is that it calls for best-of-seven series in every playoff round …
after concerns in the early days of the league's shutdown that the playoffs would have to be modified
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 3, 2020
That means, as our friends Blake Murphy and Jeff Siegel pointed out, it is possible in that 73 day window, an NBA Finals team could play as many as 36 games (four rounds of seven plus the eight regular season games), which would be playing an NBA basketball game (most of which under playoff intensity) every other day for more than two months after having not played basketball for four months. That is an incredible ask of the players involved, and while few would expect them to have to play the full load of 36 games — the best teams should be able to dispose of early round opponents in fewer than seven — it’s still a significant amount of basketball to be played.
Now, the lack of travel makes this more feasible, but what you subtract in travel load on players you add in them having to play these games after a long layoff when conditioning is expected to have dropped off, no matter how vigilant they’ve been during quarantine. There are flaws to be pointed out in just about every aspect of the reported return plans, but that should be expected. There’s no blueprint for how to do this, and there’s no way to avoid risk, both in players potentially being exposed to the coronavirus and in them having to play a lot of games in a condensed window. A plan to return has to be ratified by owners and the union, so whatever gets enacted will have support of both sides, but it’s not hard to see how things could go wrong in Orlando this summer.