One scenario being discussed would have a play-in tournament where teams currently in the 9-12 spots of each conference will have a tournament to determine which squad takes on the current eighth seed, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. The winner of the matchup will advance to the traditional postseason, facing off against the best teams in each conference.
Normally, each conference takes the top-8 teams and plays 7-games series each round until a winner is decided. Commissioner Adam Silver recently said that the hope is to still have a 7-game series in each round.
“That would be a median between finishing the season with all of the teams and just teams still mathematically alive, no matter how unrealistic their chances were,” one NBA source told Berman.
In the proposal, a handful of teams would see their seasons complete. The Pistons, Hawks, and Cavaliers reside in the East’s basement while the Suns, Wolves, and Warriors are the bottom three in the West.
It’s likely that no plan will be decided until June. However, let’s take a look at what the matchups would be in a theoretical play-in tournament:
Eastern Conference Tournament Matchups
9. Wizards vs. 12. Knicks
The two teams squared off on March 10 in what was each team’s final matchup before the league’s hiatus. Washington won 122-155 on that night, bringing them to 3-1 on the season against New York.
While the thought of New York in the playoffs is ideal for many long-suffering fans, it’s hard to envision the matchup going in their favor. Bradley Beal will be the best player on the court and in this potential tournament (John Wall is not returning this season regardless of what the league decides to do with its campaign). New York couldn’t figure out its best lineups over its first 66 games; don’t expect the club to come back with a master plan.
10. Hornets vs. 11. Bulls
Charlotte was expected by many to be a bottom-feeder, residing in the cellar of the Eastern Conference. They’ve exceeded expectations and shouldn’t be underestimated as a threat to end up with the eighth seed after all is said and done in this tournament.
The Hornets won 3-of-4 against the Bulls this season, winning a pair of contests by 10 points and squeaking out a win over Chicago by a point (the Bulls won the other matchup by just one point as well). Yet, Chicago may have the services of Otto Porter Jr. back, someone who is vastly underrated to their success. OPJ played against the Hornets on opening night but didn’t suit up in the other three games.
Current 8th Seed: Orlando Magic
Injuries deflated some of Orlando’s achievements this season, though it’s possible Jonathan Isaac returns for the team.
The Magic should be favored to beat any opponent that comes out of the group of four. They went a combined 7-2 against the four aforementioned teams, including 4-0 against the Wizards.
The Magic (or whichever teams knocks them off) would take on the Bucks in the first round.
Eastern Conference Tournament Matchups
9. Blazers vs. 12. Spurs
Damian Lillard just returned to the Blazers from injury right before the league suspended its season and the club was ready to go on a run to unseat the Grizzlies for the eighth seed. The Spurs’ hopes were dwindling but this new format would give them hope to extend their playoff streak to 23 seasons (albeit with an asterisk).
Portland won 2-of-3 against San Antonio earlier this season and they would likely be favored in such a play-in matchup.
10. Pelicans vs. 11. Kings
The Pelicans were making a run before the league’s hiatus, as they were just 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies in the standings. The Kings didn’t have the same momentum, as they were floating down the lottery-bound river yet again. Expect Sacramento to see its league-leading 14th-straight lottery appearance. New Orleans beat Sac-Town in their only battle back in January, though they were without the services of Zion Williamson then.
Current 8th Seed: Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis’ chances in the eighth seed game don’t seem as strong as Orlando’s in the East.
The Grizz beat Portland in their only duel of the season and went 2-1 against the Spurs, though postseason Popovich is a different animal. They lost their two matchups with the Pellies. Even the Kings, as Sacramento went 3-1 against Memphis earlier this year, present a problem. Each is a major threat to take down Ja Morant’s club.
The Grizzlies (or whichever team knocks them off) would take on the Lakers in the first round.