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The NBA is Considering a "World Cup"-like Playoff Schedule

Written by: Christian Jope
Updated October 14, 2022
8 min read
  • The NBA has had talks regarding a return to play with immediate playoffs.
  • Newest reports suggest commissioner Adam Silver is positive on a World Cup-style format.
  • This would be the first time the NBA Playoffs saw a major change since implementing five/seven-game series.

All signs are pointing to the return of the NBA season. After the NHL approved a 24-team tournament-style return to play, all eyes are on the NBA – one of North America’s most forward-thinking major sports leagues.

Where the NBA’s return to play occurs seems decided, save for a final public statement. Walt Disney World in Orlando seems to be the favorite to be the host site for professional basketball’s return to play. What the schedule will look like is still up for debate. The league has openly considered a 1-16 seeding system for the return of the NBA Playoffs, which has drawn the ire of a number of teams and players still competing for some of the last seeds in their conference.

Vocal in his opposition of a return without a clear route for teams to participate in the playoffs was Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard. In an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, Lillard said:

“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there.”

While the return to play would be great for fans and excellent for the league and ownership regarding revenues, it is clear the competitive nature of the NBA’s players is still at the forefront of how a return to play might come together.

An NBA World Cup?

While a straight 1-16 seeding system is under consideration, there have also been talks of a system where a group stage will define how teams will move forward into a knock-out playoff format. As reported by ESPN:

The league’s GM survey included a pool play option featuring somewhere between the 16 current playoff teams and the full body of 30 NBA teams, sources said. Teams would be divided into a certain number of groups and face each member of their group the same amount of times. (The total number of pool games has not yet been specified.) All of these would likely be branded as playoff games.

The main issue with the system would be that only one team in the NBA is mathematically eliminated from the NBA Playoffs – that team being the Golden State Warriors. But that isn’t to say that the possibilty is lost on the basketball world.

Many European leagues employ a table system while international competitions, including the Olympics and FIBA World Cup, use group stages to determine their bracket seedings. With two games against each team, per team, per group, the league may very well recoup some lost revenues due to the leagues suspension.

All credit to teams that qualified for the NBA Playoffs before the break, but to return to play only to watch a seven-game series between Toronto and Memphis or Milwaukee and Orlando doesn’t seem very enticing for diehard or new fans.

What Would an NBA Group Stage Look Like?

If the top 20 teams in the NBA were selected for a Group Stage to determine the playoff brackets, it could look a little like this:

Odds taken from DraftKings Sportsbook

Group A Group B
(1) Milwaukee Bucks (+250) (2) Los Angeles Lakers (+250)
(7) Utah Jazz (+3200) (5) Boston Celtics (+2000)
(12) Philadelphia 76ers (+2200) (10) Houston Rockets (+1300)
(14) Memphis Grizzlies (+20000) (15) Brooklyn Nets (+6000)
(17) Portland Trail Blazers (+20000) (18) New Orleans Pelicans (+20000)
Group C Group D
(3) Toronto Raptors (+1800) (4) LA Clippers (+333)
(8) Miami Heat (+2000) (6) Denver Nuggets (+2700)
(9) Oklahoma City Thunder (+8000) (11) Indiana Pacers (+10000)
(13) Dallas Mavericks (+4000) (16) Orlando Magic (+30000)
(20) San Antonio Spurs (+20000) (19) Sacramento Kings (+50000)

Of course, an NBA Playoff group stage is just a rumor at this point. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been very forward-thinking with the direction he’s taken the NBA since his taking over for the late David Stern, so such a drastic change may not be as unexpected as we think.


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Christian Jope

1478 Articles

Christian Jope is a writer, social media strategist, and data analyst. A Queen’s University Alumni, Christian is an author and social media strategist with Raptors Cage, while also working closely with MLSE and Canada Basketball through community-driven events.

Email: [email protected]

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