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The 2020-21 NBA season will have two distinct halves and a play-in tournament

Next NBA season will have the facade of normalcy, but the reality is that games will likely be postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miami Heat v Washington Wizards
Rui Hachimura and the Washington Wizards will play two distinct halves of the 2019-20 NBA season.
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the NBA released the official structure of the 2020-21 season and how things will be run. We were overwhelmed with the draft news and decided to hold this off until today by design.

Here are the main changes the season will have from a pre-coronavirus era 82-game regular season:

There are two distinct halves with an “All-Star Break” in between.

The season will begin on Dec. 22 but end on Mar. 4, 2021 for the first half. The second half begins on Mar. 11 and runs through May 16 as part of a 72-game regular season. The days in between are for an All-Star Break, but it doesn’t appear that there will be such a game this year.

The first half of the season will also take a longer period of absolute time than the second half. It’s not entirely clear why, but one reason why may be because the league may taking coronavirus-forced postponements into account. But for now, it appears that any postponed games will be brought over to the shorter second half.

Regarding the coronavirus in the United States, 250,000 Americans died of COVID-19 this year so far, and we’re probably going to see well over 100,000 more by the 2021 calendar year. It’s unlikely that there will be a true national response until late January or February 2021, after U.S. President Elect Joe Biden is officially sworn in.

As for the Mar. 5 through Mar. 10 “All-Star Break,” it’s an All-Star Break in name only since the game itself is not happening. That game was supposed to be in Indianapolis next February in an era before the coronavirus.

The NBA will still have a full slate of interconference play, teams will play most intraconference teams three times.

With the NBA having a 72-game regular season this year, there will be some changes to the way how a regular season is handled.

Each team will still play a home-and-home series against every team in the other conference (30 games), something that is unique in the NBA compared to other sports leagues.

For intraconference play, each team will play the 10 teams not in their division three times each with at least one game each at home and on the road. For the four teams within each team’s division, there will be three matches against two teams and four matches each against the remaining two.

There will be a play-in tournament for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the playoffs!

From May 18-21, the No. 7 through 10 seeds in each conference will play a tournament to get into the playoffs. It will work as follows:

  • The No. 7 will host the No. 8 seed in the conference will play a head to head match for a guaranteed berth for the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The No. 9 and No. 10 seeds will play in a second game for the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
  • In the second game for the Np. 8 seed, the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game will play the winner of the No. 9 and No. 10 game. The winner of this game gets the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

This is a one-time deal in the NBA, as opposed to something permanent for now. That said, it could be different in future seasons since it could encourage more teams to compete for a playoff spot rather than “tank.”