In a normal year, the NBA would be nearing the conclusion of a 16-team postseason organized by conferences. This is not a normal year.
As the league considers how it might restart the 2019-20 season, a handful of unorthodox options are on the table. Which of these possibilities would be best for the Sixers?
Let’s take a look:
No conference affiliation? Straight to the playoffs?
According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, about half of NBA general managers voted for a 16-team playoff format with no conference affiliation. The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that 53 percent of GMs voted to go straight to the postseason instead of playing any further regular-season games. In such a scenario, the Sixers would hold on to Oklahoma City’s top-20 protected first round pick (currently No. 22), while any additional regular-season games would jeopardize that selection conveying.
The Sixers’ path looks a bit more difficult without a traditional conference setup. They’d be seeded No. 6 in the Eastern Conference and play the Celtics in the first round, whom they hold a 3-1 advantage over this season. In a no-conferences format, the Sixers would also play Boston, in a 12 vs. 5 matchup. If they advanced, they’d potentially have to get through the following teams to win the NBA Finals: Clippers, Bucks, Lakers. Their most challenging path in a traditional format, on paper, would be facing the Celtics, Raptors, Bucks and winner of the West.
Neither path is easy, but the no-conferences model would possibly force the Sixers to face better teams at earlier stages. The Sixers do, however, have regular-season wins over both Los Angeles teams, Milwaukee and Toronto. While they’ve been searching for consistency and continuity all season, they have shown they can beat the league’s elite teams.
Play-in tournament? Group stage?
Per O'Connor, about 75 percent of teams voted for a play-in tournament, while 25 percent of teams voted for a group stage model.
A play-in tournament wouldn’t directly impact the Sixers, who aren’t on the playoff bubble. This is one method of widening the playoff field, which NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh reports would be “partially motivated” by a desire to include star names like Zion Williamson and Damian Lillard. Perhaps a bubble team winning the play-in tournament, gaining momentum and then upsetting a top seed would eventually help the Sixers, but that’s a stretch. The toll of earning a playoff spot could be depleting, too. We haven’t seen it before, so there aren’t any safe assumptions.
A group stage format would be similar to the FIFA World Cup, where teams are drawn into pool play and those who perform best among their pool advance to the next round. It wouldn’t be a random draw — the league would presumably distribute teams based on regular-season performance — but the chance for more chaos and more top seeds falling in that setting would be a positive for the Sixers.
As a means to mitigate the loss of home-court advantage — Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is reportedly the frontrunner single location if/when the season resumes — Haberstroh suggests the idea of having higher-seeded teams pick their opponents in every round.
For those who feel the Sixers are better than their 39-26 record, that wouldn’t be an advantageous model, since higher-seeded teams could "avoid" the Sixers. In Round 1 of a no-conference 16-team playoffs, Haberstroh projects the No. 5 seed Celtics would decide to play the Mavericks. He thinks the No. 7 Jazz would choose to play the Sixers, who have split their two matchups with Utah.
Commissioner Adam Silver is set to talk with the NBA’s board of governors on Friday and will discuss various formats, according to multiple reports. In the event that the season resumes, the Sixers’ route to a title will be a tough one — regardless of which format the league might ultimately settle on.
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