NBA Schedule Launch: Afternoon Basketball, An Easy Way For Pelicans, And Other Key Points

Early on Friday, the NBA and the players’ association finalized a plan to resume the 2019-20 season on July 30 at Disney World in Orlando. Despite all the concerns, ranging from health and safety, to basketball being a distraction from the social justice movement, all signs point to their playing basketball later this summer.

While this is all hypothetical, especially with Florida coronavirus cases on the rise, the plan has never felt more real than Friday night, when the league announced the schedule. The 22 teams invited to the bubble will play eight “seed games” that will help fulfill regional television contracts, earn some money for the league, and give teams and players a chance to get back in shape before the playoffs. Basically it is a shortened version of the rest of the regular season.

The selection games will start on July 30 and will last until August 14. There will be a maximum of seven games per day, and only two of the three courts in use will be set up for national television. With the schedule now established, here are some key points:

Basketball afternoon

The league has just over two weeks to schedule eight games for 22 teams, all with only three courts available. With a veritable crisis of time and resources, and in an effort to maximize the audience for each game, the league is giving us a rare gift: afternoon basketball.

Sure there will be afternoon games on the weekends during a normal season, but only a few here and there. Monday through Friday, the first notices are almost always 7 pm ET. But due to mitigating circumstances, afternoon games are not only a necessity, but will be accessible to even more people, as work situations have dramatically changed across the country. Also, with fans not allowed in the arena, having more games on TV makes sense.

There will be at least one afternoon game every day except July 30, which is the new “opening night.” The first game scheduled at this time is a 12:30 pm ET notice between the Wizards and Thunder on Sunday, August 9.

All roads point to the playoffs for pelicans

When the season closed, the Pelicans were 28-36, putting them 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for eighth and final playoff spot in the West. They would have had significant ground to regain the stretch, but with an easy schedule and the arrival of Zion Williamson, many thought they had a real shot at it.

Now that we know his Orlando schedule, that sentiment remains the same. Pelicans have the easiest schedule based on the opponent’s winning percentage. In fact, at .495, they are the only team out of 22 with an opponent winning percentage that is below .500. The Jazz and Clippers will play to start, but then they will end with the Grizzlies, Kings, Wizards, Spurs, Kings and Magic.

In total, it’s six games against teams that are below .500, just three against teams that are currently in a playoff spot and only one against a real contender. Passing the Grizzlies in just eight games will be difficult, but they should have a chance to be within all four, which would put them in a tournament situation.

Conspiracy theorists will suggest that the league set it up that way to bring Williamson to the playoffs, and there is no doubt that the league wants that to happen from a marketing standpoint. However, the Pels had the easiest remaining schedule before the season’s suspension, and the league tried to maintain that balance in Orlando.

National television disparities

Obviously, the league and television networks are going to want the best teams on television more often than the bad teams. Overall, that’s not a surprise, but still, the disparity in national television games is quite interesting.

The Lakers, for example, will have at least seven of their games on ESPN, ABC, or TNT. Next up is the Celtics with six, while other contenders like the Bucks and Clippers have five each. On the other hand, you have teams like the Wizards and Suns with zero of those games on any of those channels, which is just another reminder that they shouldn’t even be there in the first place.

Perhaps the most surprising notes in the national television breakdown is that the Sixers only have two games on ESPN, ABC or TNT, and Luka Doncic and the Mavericks were limited to three.