If NBA Season Is Only 70 Games, Bucks Have Already Clinched East

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All we know with a relative degree of certainty concerning the NBA’s return is that it is going to happen in July at World Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Whether the regular season is actually concluded in some form or fashion remains an unknown, but multiple reports have said the NBA is determined to get to 70 or 72 regular season games and then move on to the postseason, perhaps with a play-in tournament to determine the No. 8 seeds in each conference.

We won’t know much more until the league’s Board of Governors holds a conference call next Friday, at which time guidance and guidelines should be supplied.

All we know for now is that if the season ends up being 70 games, a few things are certain … including the fact that the Milwaukee Bucks will have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the East.

Milwaukee had a 6 1/2 game lead on the Toronto Raptors when the season was suspended March 11, meaning the only way the Bucks do not finish first is if a 72-game regular season is played and Milwaukee (53-12) finishes 0-7 with Toronto (46-18) finishing 8-0.

In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers (49-14) have a 5 1/2 game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, meaning they would have to go 0-7 or 1-6 in a 70-game season … along with the Clippers (44-20) winning out.

This all means that the No. 1 seeds are pretty much set for the playoffs, although who those teams would play includes a number of variables.

Currently, the Orlando Magic (30-35) are a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets for seventh place in the East. Brooklyn has played 64 games while Orlando has played 65. The Magic went 2-0 against the Nets and thus would have the tiebreaker if they finish tied.

A Nets-Bucks first-round series would rev up interest in the NBA in the middle of July, especially given the fact that Brooklyn has been taking action to win the championship at odds of up to 66-1 from a segment of the legalized U.S. sports gambling industry that is not buying the company line that Kevin Durant will not play.

“It is what it is man. Everybody waiting on me to come back,” Durant said earlier this month on Lil’ Wayne Young Money radio show. “A lot of emotions involved. So I get it. I understand the business now. But I’ll be back when it’s time.”

A 70- or 72-game regular season would allow for some jostling among the second tier of contenders in each conference.

Toronto has a 3 1/2-game lead on Boston, and it is another 2 1/2 games back to the Miami Heat. Indiana and Philadelphia (39-26) are currently tied for fifth.

In the West, the third-seeded Denver Nuggets are only 1 1/’2 games behind the Clippers and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Jazz, with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets tied for seventh with 40-24 record.

In seventh is the Dallas Mavericks, the only NBA team aside from the Atlanta Hawks to have played 77 games.

It’s another seven games back to the Memphis Grizzlies (32-33), who were holding off the Portland Trail Blazers (29-37), New Orleans Pelicans (28-36) and Sacramento Kings (also 28-36) when the season was suspended.

A play-in playoff tournament seems most fair to those West teams on the outside looking in.

The Pelicans had won eight of 13 when the season was suspended, and it behooves NBA commissioner Adam Silver to give Zion Williamson a shot at playing his way into the postseason and a possible matchup with the Lakers.

Sacramento had won seven of 10 and 10 of 12 when the season was suspended, and Portland, which is due to get Jusuf Nurkic back, had won three of five.

Making all 30 teams resume the regular season would also have consequences for the draft lottery, and with 11 teams contending in the West but just eight in the East (the ninth place Washington Wizards are 5 1/2 games behind Orlando, what makes sense in terms of a play-in tournament for the West makes little sense for the East.

Clarity is still almost a full week away, and the whole plan might have to be abandoned if there is a second wave of coronavirus infections as the United States reopens.

But for now, it seems fairly certain that the first Summer of NBA is going to happen, so it is worth a refresher on where things stood when all basketball activity ceased.