The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks were head and shoulders atop their respective conference standings when the NBA suspended operations due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
So regardless of how the league plans to resume the 2019-20 regular season, it’s understood that the Lakers and Bucks should receive some of the advantages of likely maintaining those No. 1 seeds.
However, with the season likely resuming in a bubble at Walt Disney World, the NBA is looking to get creative in other ways too. As teams hope to recoup some of the money that’s been lost, having just 16 teams enter the bubble may not be conducive.
Because of this, the league wants some way to get more teams involved. The Lakers and Bucks are both in favor of a play-in tournament as opposed to a Group Stage format that is popular with the World Cup, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:
Teams with top seeds, such as the West-leading Lakers and East-leading Bucks, are in favor of a play-in tournament, not a group stage, multiple league sources say.
A play-in tournament would be a compromise for those wanting to do a World Cup-style group stage. In this format, the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds from each conference would have a chance to steal the No. 8 and No. 7 seeds for the actual playoffs in a four-team tournament.
The first- and second-place teams from that tournament would be seeded No. 7 and No. 8, respectively. For the current Western Conference standings, the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans would be those teams.
It’s no surprise that the Lakers and the Bucks favor this change over the group stage, because nothing really changes for them in the long run. They would still play a seven-game series against a significantly inferior opponent, which is the design of the first round anyways.
After the play-in tournament, the playoffs would begin as normal with the new seeding in place at the bottom. Perhaps the standings were correct and it would still be the Mavericks and Grizzlies. Or the Trail Blazers and Pelicans could surprise people and wind up as one of the bottom two playoff teams.
In this format, absolutely nothing happens to the Nos. 3-6 seeds. They remain in the same spot and will play the same opponent.