Now that the National Hockey League has outlined how it plans to resume the truncated 2019-20 season during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now waiting for the NBA to unveil its plans for when the world’s best basketball players return to the court.
The NHL has opted to proceed with a 24-team playoff format, adding eight more clubs than normal into the mix for a shot at winning the Stanley Cup this year, a decision that has been heralded by some fans and ridiculed by others.
One of the biggest pluses of hockey’s return-to-play plan is the inclusion of big market teams like Montreal, Chicago and the New York Rangers, which would fuel TV ratings should the season actually proceed amid the pandemic. But the knock against the 24-team plan is that the Canadiens had a zero per cent chance at making the playoffs when the season was postponed on March 12 and the Blackhawks had only a 2.6 per cent shot.
There is no doubt NBA commissioner Adam Silver has analyzed what the NHL and Major League Baseball have put on the table to help him determine how to continue the basketball season.
Forget for a moment where the games are going to be played and the testing of players, and let’s concentrate on how the NBA should continue its paused season.
If the National Basketball Association followed hockey’s 24-team playoff model, clubs like the 22-43 Chicago Bulls and 21-45 New York Knicks — two massive American TV markets — would be playoff-bound even though they had virtually no shot at securing a playoff spot before the season was put on hold.
The NBA should stick with a 16-team playoff format, and if the league does decide to play all of its post-season games in one central hub (places like Disney World have been mentioned as a potential host), it could spice things up and abandon the traditional East and West conference-based matchups and proceed with a playoff bracket that has teams seeded one through 16.
The defending champion Toronto Raptors would play the Brooklyn Nets in the first round using the normal playoff format, a team Toronto beat in three of their four meetings this season, while the Raptors would take on the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1 of the non-conference playoff system.
Toronto had back-to-back games against the Grizzlies on their schedule in late March and have beaten Memphis four straight times dating back to the 2017-18 season, for what it’s worth.
Round 2 opponents for the Raptors using the traditional playoff system would likely pit them against Boston or Miami, but a 16-team non-conference bracket would see Toronto take on Canadian Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets or the Indiana Pacers in the second round, and reaching the NBA semifinals would almost assuredly see Toronto tangle with LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers.
I think Raptors fans would rather see the NBA add this twist to their playoff preparations as opposed to watching Toronto try to return to the NBA Finals by going through the likes of top-seeded Milwaukee, Boston or Miami.
Here’s what a 16-team, non-conference NBA playoff bracket would look like:
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program director, news and senior sports director with Global News Radio 900 CHML in Hamilton.