After the coronavirus shut down the NBA season along with everything else, basketball finally returned on Thursday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, inside Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Negotiations between the league and the National Basketball Players Association resulted in a new deal that allowed play to resume after a hiatus of nearly five months, but the final pro basketball games of 2020 will be unlike any previous year.
The best 22 of the league’s 30 teams will play eight games to finish the regular season. From these, the top seven teams in each conference will advance, with the final eighth seed in each conference being determined by a potential play-in tournament before the traditional 16-team playoffs.
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Even though the Walt Disney World theme park itself is open, social distancing requirements means that fans will not be in attendance for any of the NBA games. But the players themselves are already there and learning all the strange new rules required for life in the bubble.
The seeding games continued with some thrilling contests on Friday. James Harden exploded for 49 points to lead the Rockets over Kristaps Porzingis (who had 39 himself) and the Mavericks in overtime, while another overtime game resulted in the Blazers edging the Grizzlies. Today three teams that played on the first night return for a packed slate, including the Pelicans and Zion Williamson against the star-studded Clippers at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT), then LeBron James and the Lakers meeting a Toronto team playing its first game of the restart at 8: 30 p.m. ET (5: 50 p.m. PT).
With the basketball finally underway here’s everything we know so far about the NBA’s eagerly awaited return and how you can watch all the action.
How long does the season go?
The NBA resumed its regular season on July 30 and will end on Aug. 14, with any play-in games taking place, if necessary, on Aug. 15 and 16.
Each of the invited teams will play eight regular-season games to both figure out seeding and get ready for the playoffs. The exact schedule for each of the teams can be found on NBA.com, although games — at least for most of the final weeks of the regular season — will generally be played throughout the day.
When do the playoffs start?
The playoffs will begin on Aug. 17. Game 7 of the NBA Finals will take place, if necessary, no later than Oct. 13.
What NBA games are on TV today?
There’s four games today on ESPN and one that won’t be nationally televised. Here’s what on tap for Saturday, Aug. 1:
- Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) on ESPN
- Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder at 3: 30 p.m. ET (12: 30 p.m. PT) on ESPN
- New Orleans Pelicans vs. Los Angeles Clippers at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT) on ESPN
- Philadelphia 76ers vs. Indiana Pacers at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT)
- Los Angeles Lakers vs. Toronto Raptors led by Pascal Siakam at 8: 30 p.m. ET (5: 50 p.m. PT) on ESPN
How can I watch the NBA’s restart on TV?
As in a regular non-COVID season, you can expect Disney-owned ABC and ESPN to broadcast games, with ABC broadcasting the NBA Finals. ESPN was previously announced as the exclusive TV network for the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals.
AT&T-owned Turner Sports, which runs TNT and “jointly” manages the league’s NBA Digital division that includes NBA TV, will also be broadcasting games. The network is a close NBA partner and broadcasts several regular-season games weekly as well as the bulk of playoff games. TNT was previously announced as the exclusive TV network for the 2020 Western Conference Finals.
Beyond the July 30 TNT doubleheader, the NBA has put out its national television schedule for the restart, with games on ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV.
Regional sports networks like local Fox Sports channels, the YES Network (Brooklyn Nets) or Spectrum SportsNet (LA Lakers) will likely be involved for the final eight regular-season games.
Those who paid for League Pass, the NBA’s out-of-market offering that lets viewers watch every game, will be able to continue watching through their TV provider or online when the season resumes. Those who were paying for the service on a monthly basis will be billed again starting on July 30. (Billing was paused in March when the league shut down.)
Those looking to get League Pass to catch all the action for the rest of the regular season will be able to pay $29 for the rest of the year, or $40 for League Pass Premium, which drops commercials in exchange for an in-arena feed during timeouts and quarter breaks.
Some quick things to note: League Pass doesn’t include NBA TV by default (it’s available as a $20 add-on for both packages) so you won’t be able to watch national games on NBA TV.
The service also does not allow you to watch games broadcast on TV in your area, including those on a regional sports network or on a national provider (like ESPN, ABC, NBA TV or TNT).
You don’t need cable or satellite TV to watch the games on ESPN or TNT. Most of the channels are offered on four of the major live TV streaming services, though not all streaming services offer ABC, TNT and NBA TV, and you’ll want to double-check that your local sports network is included.
Sling TV’s $30-a-month Orange package includes ESPN and TNT but not ABC. If you want NBA TV you will also need to subscribe to the “Sports Extra” add-on for an additional $10 per month.
FuboTV recently signed a deal to add ESPN and ABC (where available) to its offering “this summer” but has yet to provide a date. When it does add the channels it will offer three of the four major channels: ABC, ESPN and NBA TV, if you get the soon-to-be $60 per month Standard package plus the $6 per month Fubo Extra add-on (for NBA TV).
TNT is no longer available on FuboTV.
AT&T TV Now includes ABC, ESPN and TNT with its $55 per month Plus package, with some regional sports networks, like those in New York and Los Angeles, available in the $80 per Max offering. NBA TV, however, is not included until you go to the $124 per month Xtra package.
Which teams are in?
The 22 teams invited to Orlando for the restart includes the 16 teams that would currently qualify for the playoffs, plus six teams that are six games or fewer from the eighth and final playoff seed in their respective conferences.
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Toronto Raptors
- Boston Celtics
- Miami Heat
- Indiana Pacers
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Brooklyn Nets
- Orlando Magic
- Washington Wizards
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Denver Nuggets
- Utah Jazz
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Houston Rockets
- Dallas Mavericks
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Portland Trail Blazers
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Sacramento Kings
- San Antonio Spurs
- Phoenix Suns
The other remaining eight teams are all done for the year and can begin prepping for the offseason and NBA Draft, which will be held on Oct. 16. Better luck next year, Knicks fans.
Which players are sitting out?
Whether it’s from injury, positive COVID-19 tests or any other reason, like a concern about getting hurt or catching the coronavirus, there are a number of notable players sitting out the restart. Here are a few, as of July 22.
- Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets)
- Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets)
- DeAndre Jordan (Brooklyn Nets)
- Taurean Prince (Brooklyn Nets)
- Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn Nets)
- Wilson Chandler (Brooklyn Nets)
- LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs)
- Bojan Bogdanovic (Utah Jazz)
- Willie Cauley-Stein (Dallas Mavericks)
- Avery Bradley (Los Angeles Lakers)
- Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
- Davis Bertans (Washington Wizards)
- Thabo Sefolosha (Houston Rockets)
- Trevor Ariza (Portland Trail Blazers)
Among the players listed, Jordan, Prince and Dinwiddie all recently tested positive for the coronavirus.
Pacers star Victor Oladipo was initially planning to sit out the restart but now appears set to play.
How does the play-in tournament work?
Here’s how this would all go down, according to an FAQ posted on NBA.com:
“If the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, no play-in tournament would be necessary. The final playoff berth would simply go to the team with the eighth-best record (regular-season games plus seeding games)” in that respective conference.
But, the site continues, “if the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, then we’ll have a battle for the final spot between those two teams.
“The tournament [would] basically be a best-of-two series — where the No. 9 seed would have to win two head-to-head matchups to take over the No. 8 spot.”
Where will the games be held?
The NBA is using three different venues on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus: The HP Field House, Visa Athletic Center and a site Disney calls “The Arena.”
The HP Field House has been previously used to host an NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament called the Orlando Invitational. Its next tournament — featuring the likes of Auburn, Michigan State and Gonzaga — is currently set to run Thanksgiving weekend.
Where will the players stay? What will they do when not playing?
The players, team staff and their personnel and families are divided across three different Disney properties: the Grand Destino, the Grand Floridian and the Yacht Club.
The hotels are sorted by team standings, with top seeds like the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Clippers staying at the Grand Destino, which opened last year. Teams that are on the playoff bubble — like the Blazers, Kings and Pelicans — are staying at Disney’s Yacht Club.
As Stadium and The Athletic’s Shams Charania notes, when not playing players can attend other games, go to movie screenings and play video games, plus take advantage of pools, trails, barbers, manicurists and pedicurists.
Ping-pong is also available, but just singles games. Doubles are not allowed in order to maintain social distancing, as pointed out by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.