Under NBA Return to Play plan, Nets must battle for playoff spot
Brooklyn will look to avoid play-in scenario in Eastern Conference
The first of the four major pro sports leagues to shut down is also the first with a solid plan in place to reopen.
Even if it doesn’t suit the Brooklyn Nets as well as previous versions of the NBA’s Return to Play initiative.
The league informed the NBA Players Association that it will present a 22-team plan, with regular-season games for playoff seeding included, to the NBA’s Board of Governors Thursday afternoon in the hopes of playing out the rest of the year at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Idle since March 11 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is hoping to begin play again by July 31.
The league had previously flirted with both a 20- and a 24-game plan, neither of which would have included regular-season contests.
Under both of the previous scenarios, the Nets (30-34) would have retained their seventh spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race entering the postseason.
Though they still hold a half-game lead over the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic and remain six games ahead of the ninth-place Washington Wizards, the Nets will now have to play the proposed eight regular-season games ahead of the playoffs to retain or advance their position.
If Washington or Orlando crawls within four games of Brooklyn for the eighth spot in the East, Brooklyn would be forced to play in a two-game play-in series to determine the final spot in the conference.
The team with the inferior record in that scenario would have to win both games to claim the eighth seed.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis offered his support for the plan, which will have all the teams gathered in and around Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort with games to be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, a 255-acre campus with the ability to host multiple contests simultaneously.
“I’m all in from the state’s perspective,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Central Florida on Wednesday, one day after reportedly hearing details of the plan from NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum.
“I don’t think you could find a better place than Orlando to do this,” DeSantis added. “I think it’s very exciting.”
Even more exciting for Brooklyn fans is the potential return of injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the Nets’ lineup in time for the restart.
The superstar tandem, both of whom came to Brooklyn this past summer via General Manager Sean Marks’ much-ballyhooed free-agent windfall, has not played a single game together on the hardwood for the Nets.
Irving participated in 20 games before being shelved for surgery on his right shoulder. Durant has been out since tearing his Achilles in the NBA Finals last summer as a member of the Golden State Warriors.
Having a bit of training camp, presumably to begin in early July, and eight regular-season games ahead of the postseason would certainly give the Brooklyn brain trust — Marks and interim Head Coach Jacque Vaughn — an opportunity to see if Durant and/or Irving are ready to play.
The rest of the Nets were riding a three-game winning streak, the last two of which came after Vaughn replaced former Head Coach Kenny Atkinson, before play was halted.
Brooklyn appeared to be priming for the postseason after being ousted in five games by the Philadelphia 76ers in last year’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Nets will more than likely advance to their second playoff series in as many seasons, only it’s not guaranteed to them anymore as it would have been under the two other NBA Return to Play scenarios.
As the team that was hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Nets, who had four players test positive in March, including Durant, could also emerge as one of the more dangerous units in the East as a result of the pandemic.
“Orlando really could be the epicenter of the comeback of professional sports,” DeSantis beamed Wednesday.
And it could also be the place where the Nets seriously vie for their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2003.
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