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NBA to return in late July after Board of Governors approves 22-team restart plan

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics are expected to be back in action in late July.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The NBA’s Board of Governors has approved a 22-team format for restarting the season in late July at the Disney campus near Orlando, Fla., a major step toward getting teams back onto the court and playing games again.

The format calls for each team playing eight games to determine playoff seeding plus the possible utilization of a play-in tournament for the final spot in the Eastern Conference and Western Conferences, according to an announcement sent out by the NBA on Thursday afternoon.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts."


Silver also addressed what the league would do in response to nationwide protests calling for social justice and an end to violence toward Black people.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver had some good news for basketball fans on Thursday.The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

“We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways,” he said.

It is the most significant step yet in the process of trying to resume a season that was suspended nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are numerous other details to work through — including the specifics of a testing plan once teams arrive next month at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex and calculating the financial ramifications of playing a shortened season.

As part of the finalization of the restart plan, the NBA is working with government officials, infectious disease experts and public health leaders to ensure the safety of players amid the coronavirus pandemic. Preliminary plans include a “regular testing protocol,” according to the league.


If all 22 teams that are going to Disney play their allotted eight games, there would be 1,059 games in this regular season. That means 171 games would be canceled, which could cost players around $600 million in salary.

But one of the biggest hurdles is now cleared, and if things go according to plan, an NBA champion for a season unlike any other will be crowned in October. The season could go into that month if the usual playoff format is followed.

The NBA also announced that the 2020 draft lottery has been rescheduled for Aug. 25, and that the NBA draft will be held on Oct. 15, if a start date of July 31 holds.

That means the 2020-21 NBA regular season would begin on Dec. 1.

Thursday’s move by the board — one that came, coincidentally, on the day this season’s NBA Finals would have started — was largely a formality. The NBA considered countless restart options after suspending the season March 11, whittled that list to four possibilities last week, and from there the 22-team plan quickly gained momentum.

The 22-team plan includes all teams that were holding playoff spots when the season was stopped, plus all other clubs within six games of a postseason berth.

It looks like Brad Stevens and the Celtics will soon be getting back to work.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics, and reigning NBA champion Toronto had already clinched playoff berths. Now with only eight games remaining for each team, it means that eight other clubs — Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City, and Houston — have postseason spots secured, and Dallas virtually has one as well.


That leaves nine teams vying for three remaining playoff berths. In the East, Brooklyn, Orlando, and Washington are in the race for two spots. In the West, Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Phoenix will jostle for one spot.

If the gap between eighth place and ninth place in either conference is four games or less when the shortened regular season ends, those teams will go head-to-head for the No. 8 seed. The team in ninth place would have to go 2-0 in a two-game series to win the berth; otherwise, the No. 8 seed would advance to the postseason.

Thursday’s decision also means that the seasons for Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, Golden State, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte are over.