NBA

How Do the 2020 NBA Playoffs Work Inside of the Bubble?

If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll probably never forget March 11, 2020. That night, Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19; before anyone knew what happened, the NBA season was suspended until further notice. Now, just over five months later, the 2020 NBA playoffs are slated to begin.

It goes without saying, however, that this season has been a bit different; the home stretch of the campaign, after all, had to happen in a bubble. With that in mind, it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder how the 2020 NBA playoffs will work. Thankfully for basketball fans, things won’t be too different once the games get underway.

COVID-19 forced the NBA to make some changes

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It goes without saying that 2020 has been an unconventional year for everyone. Even sports leagues like the NBA were forced to make some changes once the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world.

As mentioned above, the NBA placed the 2019-20 season on pause after Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test; while the league had discussed the possibility of playing games in empty arenas, that would be a moot point if players and officials became infected. Ultimately, discretion proved to be the better part of valor.

Basketball, however, wasn’t done for the year. The season resumed at the end of July, albeit inside a bubble at Walt Disney World. That unique set-up, however, forced the league to make some changes.

Beyond the physical realities of everyone being in the same location and playing on the same courts without fans, the conclusion of the NBA season almost became more of a miniature tournament than anything else. Only 22 teams joined the bubble—you had to be within six games of 8th place to make the cut—and each played eight games; the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers then had a play-in game to determine who earned the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

How will the 2020 NBA playoffs work in the bubble?

After the Blazers-Grizzlies play-in game, the 2020 NBA playoffs are set to begin. Thankfully for basketball fans everywhere, things will look pretty normal from here on out.

As always, the playoffs will take place in a 16-team bracket, with teams ranked in their respective conference by their regular-season record. Each series is a best-of-seven matchup with the winner advancing to the next round; the bracket doesn’t reseed during the playoffs.

With eight teams from each conference on their respective side of the bracket, it will take 12 wins across three series to reach the NBA Finals; another four wins will clinch the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

While things won’t change in terms of the way the playoff games work, the atmosphere will, of course, be a bit different due to the bubble. Playing in an empty gym will remove the higher seed’s home-court advantage; the lack of travel could also make fatigue and physical fitness less of a factor.

Who’s the top dog in the 2020 NBA playoffs?

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As anyone who watches March Madness or soccer can tell you, single-elimination tournaments increase the possibility of shenanigans; when all you need is one victory to advance, a lucky bounce can make all the difference. In the NBA playoffs, however, talent will usually shine through.

This year, that makes the Milwaukee Bucks the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference. Thanks in large part to Giannis Antetokounmpo, 538 gives the club a 53% chance to reach the finals and a 22% chance of taking the crown.

In the West, things will probably come down to the two Los Angeles-based clubs. While the Lakers held the advantage for most of the season, they faltered down the stretch; 538 now gives the Clippers a 30% chance of winning the NBA championship, as compared to the Lakers’ 21% chance.

At this point, though, there’s only one thing left: to watch the 2020 NBA playoffs and see who comes out on top.