NBA

Everything You Need to Know About The NBA’s Split-Schedule Season

LeBron James #2 of Team LeBron handles the ball against Giannis Antetokounmpo #24 of Team Giannis during the 69th NBA All-Star Game on February 16, 2020 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
Nathaniel S. Butler

So, this NBA season is a bit different than normal. Apparently, there’s a pandemic going on or something.

A lot is happening, so before we give you the in-depth analysis on this season’s wonkiness, we’re going to plug you into the basketball Matrix to do a quick download on everything you need to know about the upcoming 2020-21 season.

  • The season has been shortened to 72 games. The tipoff is December 22. 
  • Training camp starts on December 1. The Pre-season runs December 11th-19th. 
  • This schedule will take place over 146 days, about a month shorter than usual.
  • Each team will play intraconference teams three times and interconference teams twice.
  • The season will be split into two halves. The first half will run from December 22 to March 4, and the second from March 11 to May 16. 
  • There will be a 5-day All-Star break; however, as of now, no All-Star Game is scheduled.
  • The team will feature a play-in tournament from May 18 to May 22,
  • Playoffs start immediately after the tournament, on May 18. 

Got it all? Don’t worry; we get into all the details below.

The Shortened 72-Game NBA Season

Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat and Daniel Theis #27 of the Boston Celtics compete for a jump ball during the fourth quarter in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 17, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Even though the season is ten games shorter than usual, the pace of the schedule is 6% faster. To make up for the compressed schedule, the league plans to increase the number of back-to-backs up to 14 (from 12.4 last year).

Not only will 2020-21 involve a compressed playing schedule, but it also means an incredibly short offseason. A mere ten weeks is all that separates last season’s Finals from this season’s tipoff. This is almost half as much as the 18 ½ week offseason before the 2019 tipoff. Playoff worn players (notably LeBron James) don’t seem particularly happy with this. 

The upside of the increased back-to-backs is that teams will travel 25% less.

The goal is to have everything wrapped up in time for players to participate in the July Olympics.

As of now, we still don’t know if fans can view games or if teams will host fans with limited capacity.

The Split 2020-21 NBA Schedule

NBA Commissioer Adam Silver speaks during a press conference prior to the NBA Japan Games 2019 between the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets in Saitama on October 8, 2019. - The NBA will not regulate the speech of players, employees and owners, the organisation's commissioner said Tuesday after a tweet from a Houston Rockets executive sparked a backlash in China.
Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP

The most unusual aspect of the upcoming season is that it’s essentially split into two periods. The first half will run through tipoff December 22 through March 4, when the All-Star break begins. The second half runs from March 11 through May 16, giving a 2-day rest before the play-in tournament.

We won’t know the schedule for the second half because the league will allegedly include any games that need to be postponed in the first half.

The matchups for the first half are available on the NBA website. The official schedule with the dates and locations will be released on December 1. Each team will play three games against teams in their conference and two games against each interconference opponent (one home and one away). 

What Will The 2020-21 All-Star Game Format Be?

 Signage announcing the 2021 NBA All-Star game in Indianapolis before the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers on December 13, 2017 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Jeff Haynes/NBAE

So the thing is, as of now, there actually isn’t like an All-Star game. 

There is a 5-day All-Star break from March 5-10But we’re guessing the idea of getting all their top-level athletes together in one place for a weekend of celebrating and then playing in close proximity didn’t seem to strike the league as “covid friendly.”

The league hasn’t formally announced why there isn’t a game or, honestly, the fact that there isn’t even an All-Star game. It seems every beat writer and outlet is going off the Woj bomb of a tentative schedule that includes an All-Star break “minus an ASG.”

Seriously, I tracked down every media mention of there being no All-Star game. Everyone from Forbes to Yahoo Sports points to one tweet from Woj, where the All-Star game appears to be an afterthought.

The only official NBA mention of no All-Star games is from the Pacers website — the hosts of this season’s All-Star game. And they don’t even say it’s officially canceled. They simply say that the NBA “informed its hotel partners in Indianapolis that NBA All-Star 2021 is unlikely to take place on Presidents’ Day weekend so that they could make other arrangements.” The statement goes on to mention that “more information about next season’s schedule, including NBA All-Star, will be announced at a later date.” This was published on August 17.

Anyway, it seems no All-Star Game is likely the move from the league. However, who knows if there might be some socially distanced 3-point contest or other entertainment to keep league spirits high.

How Will The New NBA Play-In Tournament Work? 

Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies lays on the ground after he was fouled by the Portland Trail Blazers during the third quarter in the Western Conference play-in game one at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 15, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The play-in tournament will feature the No. 7-10 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference. In the first round, the 7th and 8th seeded teams face each other, as do the 9 and 10 seeds. Whoever wins the 7-8 seed game will automatically advance to the playoffs. The loser will host the winner of the 9-10 seed game, with the winner of that game advancing to the playoffs.

What this essentially means is that the 7 and 8 seed teams will have two chances to make the playoffs, whereas the 9 and 10 seeds will have to win two in a row in a do-or-die style to advance.

The board of governors unanimously approved this tournament on a one-year basis. While fan reactions are mixed, based on the success of the bubble and the All-Star game reformat, change might be a good thing.

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