NBA Targeting July 31 Return to Play; Who Makes the Cut?

NBA July 31 Return

  • NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has announced July 31 as their target date for a return to play.
  • There is still no decision on how competition will occur upon the leagues’ return.
  • The NBA’s announcement comes soon after the NHL’s public announcement of their return

In a report made on May 29th by The Athletic’s Shams Charania, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver informed the Board of Governors that the league has selected a date for their return.

This is the first public date that the NBA has announced regarding their return to competition. Since the NBA was suspended on March 11th, 2020, the league has been on strict quarantine protocol. Many players have left their primary markets, in order to follow national safety advisories.

During the first week of May, it was revealed that the NBA would allow teams to reopen practice facilities on the basis that there would be limited access and contact during facility use.

A Different Competition Format

There has been public discussion regarding different competition scenarios should the NBA return. Considering the league can’t expect the remainder of the regular season be completed, there have been some unique solutions presented. Per Sharania:

  1. Direct return to the NBA Playoffs with the highest-ranked 16 teams.
  2. 22 Team “mini-season” with a play-in tournament for eighth seeds.
  3. 20 Team Group Stage to determine playoff qualification and seeding.
  4. 30 team, 72-game regular season with a play-in tournament.

While there is no final decision on what the league’s schedule will look like, it is clear that the NBA wants to return with its most profitable teams in the action.

Who Makes the Cut?

The NBA is trying to recoup as much as they can from the season they lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. It seems as that, upon the leagues’ return to play, it is increasingly likely that we won’t be seeing all 30 teams back in the competition. Should that come to pass, let’s take a look at which teams will and won’t make the cut.

Guaranteed to Return – The top 16


The NBA season came to an abrupt stop with about 60-65 matches played by every team. With almost 75% of the season already completed, fans received a pretty good idea of what the NBA Playoffs would look like.

Separated by conference, the top sixteen, or provisional playoff bracket, looks like this:

  • Eastern Conference
    • (1) Milwaukee Bucks (playoffs clinched), (2) Toronto Raptors (playoffs clinched), (3) Boston Celtics (playoffs clinched), (4) Miami Heat, (5) Indiana Pacers, (6) Philadelphia 76ers, (7) Brooklyn Nets, (8) Orlando Magic

Odds taken from DraftKings Sportsbook

Eastern Conference TeamOdds to Win NBA Championship
Milwaukee Bucks+250
Toronto Raptors+1800
Boston Celtics+2000
  • Western Conference
    • (1) Los Angeles Lakers (playoffs clinched), (2) LA Clippers, (3) Denver Nuggets, (4) Utah Jazz, (5) Oklahoma City Thunder, (6) Houston Rockets, (7) Dallas Mavericks, (8) Memphis Grizzlies

Odds taken from DraftKings Sportsbook

Western Conference TeamOdds to Win NBA Championship
Los Angeles Lakers+250
LA Clippers+333
Houston Rockets+1300

It would be almost impossible to argue that any of these teams not be included in the NBA’s return to play. Each and every one of these squads qualified to have one of the top 16 records in the league, regardless of conference.

On the Bubble


The unfortunate result of starting an NBA Playoff with the top 16 teams, is the fact that there was still the mathematical opportunity for a number of teams to qualify for the post-season. Only one team, the Golden State Warriors, were mathematically eliminated from the NBA Playoffs when the season was suspended.

That single-team elimination considered, only a handful of teams were realistically in the race for their conferences eighth seed.

  • Eastern Conference
    • (9) Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards could be considered the sole Eastern Conference team that was truly in the running for the NBA Playoffs. They were 4.5 games back from the eighth seeded Orlando Magic, with more than enough games to make up the difference.

More importantly for the NBA, on the marketing and broadcasting side of things, perennial All-Star and the NBA’s second leading scorer, Bradley Beal, plies his trade in the capital state. The opportunity to have Beal performing during the NBA’s return, during a time when the NBA wants to capitalize on viewership, is a tough oppotunity to give up based on seeding alone. Beal was averaging a league-best 36.5 points per game in ten games before the NBA’s suspension.

  • Western Conference
    • (9) Portland Trail Blazers, (10) New Orleans Pelicans, (11) Sacramento Kings, (12) San Antonio Spurs

The Western Conference is where the tough questions begin. Three teams are currently within 3.5 games of the eighth position while one team, the San Antonio Spurs, are within four games.

The Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs are Western Conference Playoff mainstays, with incredibly marketable stars in Damian Lillard (Portland) and Demar Derozan (San Antonio) leading their ranks.

The Sacramento Kings haven’t been to the NBA Playoffs since 2006. But with steady growth and an emerging batch of young stars – De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Marvin Bagley – the opportunity to showcase team growth and rising talent is something the league shouldn’t easily keep exempt.

Seemingly top priority, as reported by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, is for the NBA to include the New Orleans Pelicans in their return, in hopes of showcasing top rookie talent Zion Williamson. Williamson has missed much of the 2019-2020 campaign due to an early-season injury. But it’s obvious the league wants to promote a player who could one day become the face of the NBA.

Falling Short

The top sixteen NBA teams have a combination of excellent play and marketability. The teams on the fringe of the playoff race have showcased some of those qualities, but not on a consistent enough basis. The following teams, just don’t come off as impactful enough.

  • Eastern Conference
    • (10) Charlotte Hornets, (11) Chicago Bulls, (12) New York Knicks, (13) Detroit Pistons, (14) Atlanta Hawks, (15) Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Western Conference
    • (13) Phoenix Suns, (14) Minnesota Timberwolves, (15) Golden State Warriors (eliminated from playoff contention)

Sure there are some promising futures, former All-Stars, and even players with league-wide and historical renown. But these nine teams have shown very little to suggest they would realistically be in the playoff hunt. With respect to the current season, we couldn’t see more than one of these teams joining in a season with limited team participation.

The jury is out on what the leagues return to play will look like, but the date set by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is giving fans, players, and sports bettors something to look forward to.

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NBA FAQs

How many teams compete in the NBA Playoffs?

The NBA Playoffs consists of 16 participating teams. Eight from the Eastern Conference bracket, and eight from the Western Conference bracket. The winner of each bracket faces off in the NBA Finals.

Which NBA team has been to the most consecutive NBA Playoffs?

The San Antonio Spurs have, by far, the longest active NBA Playoff appearance streak. At 22 consecutive seasons, the Spurs have been playoff contenders since 1998.

When was the San Antonio Spurs’ most recent NBA Championship?

The San Antonio Spurs last won the NBA Championship during the 2013-2014 NBA season. Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard was the 2014 NBA Finals MVP.

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News iconApril 29
Author iconIoana Romanasu