On Thursday, NBA league executives voted to approve Adam Silver’s 22-team plan for the 2019-2020 season’s relaunch in Orlando.
The NBA’s Board of Governors has voted to approve the league’s 22-team format to restart the 2019-2020 season in Orlando, source tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 4, 2020
It was also reported that each of these 22 teams would play 8 regular season games before the commencement of the postseason. And it’s the postseason question in particular that has been a dicey one for specifically the Memphis Grizzlies. Rumors of group stages and play-in tournaments had persisted over the last few weeks as the prevailing narrative that the NBA would much rather have the New Orleans Pelicans (read: Zion Williamson) in the playoffs over the Grizzlies seemed to be reality.
The old adage ‘Memphis vs. errybody’ appeared to be more true than ever as it seemed that the Grizzlies, who possessed a 3.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Portland Trailblazers, would be screwed over in favor of the NBA doing what it thought was best for marketability purposes.
However, the NBA’s plan for the 2019-2020 season not only honors the Grizzlies’ competitive advantage, but surprisingly even benefits them with an even more advantageous opportunity to make the playoffs than they would have had if the season had continued on as normal.
For starters, the Grizzlies will have the opportunity to make the playoffs after these eight regular season games without an inconvenient play-in tournament. As reported by Shams Charania, if the eighth-seeded team holds more than a four-game advantage over the ninth-seeded team, then the eighth-seeded team will advance straight to the playoffs. So if the Grizzlies can just expand their advantage by a just a game over the next eight games, then they can make the playoffs outright.
Of course, that could be much easier said than done when strength of schedule is taken into consideration. And if initial reports about the schedule of the eight regular season games are accurate, then it will be highly difficult for the Grizzlies to improve their lead in the Western Conference standings.
Grizzlies’ next and final 8 games based on @VinceGoodwill reporting:— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 3, 2020
To be sure, this alleged schedule, which involves the Grizzlies among other teams playing out the remainder of their regular season schedule excluding the teams that aren’t invited to Orlando, is quite difficult for Memphis. But it’s important to remember that the rest of the regular season even before the pandemic was always going to be exceedingly harsh for the Grizzlies—they had the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA while teams nipping at their heels like the Pelicans and Blazers had some of the easiest ones.
That will no longer be the case for the Blazers and Pelicans under the NBA’s plan to resume the regular season. Because while they may have had many more sub-.500 opponents left on their schedule than Memphis, most of those teams will not be playing in Orlando. As a result, they among the other challengers for the eight seed will reportedly have schedules that are just as if not more difficult than Memphis’.
Portland:— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 3, 2020
Spurs:— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 3, 2020
With the intensity of the Grizzlies’ schedule in mind, it will be very difficult for them to expand their lead by even just another game in order to by-pass the play-in tournament. But it’s even more unlikely that another team will be able to overcome the Grizzlies’ 3.5 game advantage when considering the apparent difficulty of their own schedules.
Now the fact that a play-in tournament seems to be almost inevitable for the Grizzlies may seem like an unfair reality, but even the “tournament” itself will honor the Grizzlies’ or any hypothetical eight-seed’s advantage. If the team that holds the eight-seed doesn’t possess more than a four-game advantage in the standings, they will proceed to play the 9th-seeded team in a tournament/series of sorts. For the 8th-seeded team, they will just simply have to beat the 9th-seeded team once in order to advance to the playoffs. The 9th-seeded team, on the other hand, will have to beat them twice in order to do the same.
With all of this considered, the NBA managed to make a plan that ensures an opportunity for those who were on the bubble just outside of the playoffs before the season was suspended while also honoring the competitive advantage that the Memphis Grizzlies earned as well. It may not be perfect, but an imperfect plan that values fairness is acceptable in an imperfect world.
The NBA is back. And the Memphis Grizzlies led by Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. will have their fair opportunity to make some noise at Disney World.