The NBA released its schedule for the second half of the regular season live on ESPN's The Jump on Wednesday, laying out how it plans to have all 30 teams play 72 games despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The NBA unveiled only its first-half schedule in early December, allowing it flexibility to adjust as the pandemic inevitably wreaked havoc on its attempts to play games outside of the safe confines of a bubble like the one in which the league finished last season. To try to make things as fair as possible, each team was scheduled to play either 37 or 38 games across the 73 days that first-half schedule was set to run.
Due to the pandemic, however, and the ongoing issues it has caused some teams, there is no such equity in the second-half schedule. It is no coincidence, for example, that the four teams playing on the first night back -- the Washington Wizards, who will be in Memphis to take on the Grizzlies, and the San Antonio Spurs, who will travel to Dallas to play the Mavericks -- all have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 in the first half of the season.
The Spurs and Grizzlies have the most games to be played, with each having to cram 40 games into a 68-day stretch of the calendar. On the other end of the spectrum are the LA Clippers, who will have only 34 games to be played in a 67-day period.
Although the NBA's goal is to have every team play its scheduled 72 games, sources said the league is cognizant of the fact that all 30 teams might not be able to reach that number. There is limited flexibility within the schedule to add games, or to add dates on the calendar, as the NBA wants to get the playoffs completed on time before the scheduled start of the Olympic Games in late July.
As a result, the second-half schedule will conclude on Sunday, May 16, setting up a play-in tournament from May 18 to 21, which will feature the teams that finish from seventh through 10th in the Eastern and Western conferences playing for the final two playoff spots on each side of the bracket.
In the first games of the tournament, the seventh seed will host the eighth seed in each conference, with the winner of each conference's game getting one playoff spot. The losers of those first games will then host either the ninth or 10th seed in their respective conference -- depending which of the lowest seeds wins the games played between those two teams -- for the second playoff spot.
The NBA playoffs will then begin on Saturday, May 22.
There will be five ABC games over the second half of the schedule, all featuring marquee matchups of the league's top teams. Those are:
* The Clippers hosting their Staples Center co-tenants, the Los Angeles Lakers, on April 4.
* The Lakers traveling to Brooklyn to face the Nets on April 10.
* The Lakers playing Luka Doncic and the Mavericks in Dallas on April 24.
As with the first-half schedule, the NBA has resumed using baseball-style scheduling in the second half, with teams playing two games in one city against the same opponent in order to minimize travel when possible. One prominent example of that is the league-leading Utah Jazz playing in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Saturday, April 17, and Monday, April 19, with both games being on ESPN.
After the two-game opening night featuring Wizards-Grizzlies and Spurs-Mavericks -- the latter being on NBA TV -- TNT opens the second half of the season on Thursday, March 11, with the Celtics playing the Nets in Brooklyn and the Clippers hosting the Warriors.
The opening ESPN broadcast of the second-half schedule has the Clippers traveling to New Orleans to face newly minted All-Star Zion Williamson and the Pelicans on Sunday, March 14 -- followed by the surprising New York Knicks going to Brooklyn and playing the Nets and the Lakers traveling to San Francisco to play the Warriors the next night.