The Return of Sports: NBA and NHL

Due to their position in the Eastern Conference standings when the NBA season was suspended, the Atlanta Hawks will not get to participate in the Orlando Playoffs. // Photo courtesy of Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks, we will be covering the return of major sports in America, giving a special focus to local sports. Today, we are covering the NBA and the NHL. If there is a team, league, or organization in the Atlanta area that you would like us to give attention to, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]


The NBA was the first major American sports league to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, suspending its regular season on March 11. Since then, the commissioner’s office has been working with the player’s union on a plan that would allow the season to be completed in some fashion. The result of those discussions is the “Orlando Playoffs,” which will see the top 13 teams in the Western Conference and the top nine teams in the East resume play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on July 30. The participating teams will be placed in a “bubble” that includes players, coaches, essential staff members and media. The idea of the bubble is to create a closed environment where cases of the virus can be limited. Limited mobility will allow for better tracking and isolation of participants who test positive or exhibit potential symptoms of the virus. Games will be conducted without fans, but many of them will be televised.

Each team will play eight “regular season” games that will determine seeding for the playoffs, which are set to begin August 17. The top seven teams in each conference at the end of the seeding games will be locked in for the playoffs, but the situation for the eighth seed is different — if the ninth seed team in either conference is within four games of the eighth seed team, a play-in will occur. The lower seed will have to win two consecutive games to earn a spot in the next round, while the higher seed will only have to win one game. Once the final seeds are determined, the playoffs will continue under the standard eight-team format for each conference, culminating in the Eastern Conference champion taking on the Western Conference champion in the NBA Finals, which have a targeted start date of September 30. Overall, the entire tournament will take a little over three months. 

The Atlanta Hawks were one of the eight teams that did not make the cutoff for Orlando, ending any chance of playoff contention. This would seem to indicate that their season is over, although the NBA has been considering creating a second bubble in Chicago for the eight teams not traveling to Orlando. Teams would be required to follow the same protocols as in Orlando, with a target start date of sometime in September. It is expected that teams would be able to conduct training camps and play each other in that space, opening the door for a continuation of the season. Atlanta would stand to benefit from the continued experience this situation would provide for their young players, such as rookies DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish. However, it remains to be seen if this scenario will actually come to pass as the league may decide that the health risk is not worth playing games that have no ultimate significance.


Meanwhile, the NHL plans to resume play on August 1 in a pair of hub cities. The Western Conference teams will play in Edmonton while their Eastern Conference counterparts will compete in Toronto. 24 teams will compete in an expanded playoff format this year as opposed to the standard 16. The top four teams in each conference will open with round-robin style play, taking on each of the other top teams to determine seeding for the first round. The remaining eight teams will play a best of five play-in series, and the winners will take on the top four seeds. The eight losers will head to the draft lottery, with the added bonus that one of the teams will receive the first overall pick. 

All rounds after the play-in round will be best of seven and teams will be reseeded between rounds, rather than following a bracketed format. Exact start and end dates have not yet been set for the playoffs, but teams will be allowed to start formal training camps on July 10.