There are reasons to be optimistic about a potential return for the NBA. The league is strongly considering Disney World as its preferred destination to finish the remaining 2019-20 season in Orlando, FL. Whether they return to finish their remaining schedule or jump straight to the playoffs is left to be determined, but the 2020 post-season will look drastically different.
On Monday, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst announced on Get Up! that there is a genuine chance the NBA will do away with their conference standings to hold a 1-16 playoff format come late July. Instead of taking the top eight teams from each conference, the league will adopt an NCAA March Madness Tournament style bracket based on record, where only the top 16 teams will have an opportunity to compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“I really think there’s a good chance this is only going to be a 16-team playoff. If that is the case, it opens up the possibility for something that Adam Silver has long wanted, which is to seed 1 through 16 in the postseason and go that route. There’s no excuse with travel or anything like that.” Windhorst via ESPN.
Although the potential change to the 2020 playoffs still has to get approval from the owners, the Houston Rockets will considerably benefit from a reseeding format should the NBA press forward with its new design.
At the time of the NBA suspension, the Rockets stood sixth in the Western Conference with a 40-24 record. If the playoffs started today, Houston’s first-round opponent would have been the third-seeded Denver Nuggets (43-22), followed by a second-round date with the Los Angeles Clippers (44-20), and a potential Conference Finals showdown against the Lakers (49-14) under the current playoff format.
In all, the Rockets have an unenviable path en route to the Finals with a combined 5-5 record against their plausible playoff opponents. Under the new Sweet-16 format, Houston’s road to the Finals is made a little less complex in their favor.
Although they will still have to go through the Lakers in an anticipated second-round contest, Houston would have a better chance of eliminating L.A. as a result of avoiding a first-round encounter with the Nuggets, while completely evading the Clippers.
Better or Worse?— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) May 25, 2020
The 2020 NBA Playoffs With Straight Seeding pic.twitter.com/39ljLPA1Ax
Now the 10th seed, the Rockets will open their first-round series against the No. 7 seed Utah Jazz (41-23). Houston has maintained a dominance over the Jazz the past few seasons — which includes eliminating their Western Conference foe in back-to-back postseasons. With the only blemish a last-second buzzer-beater by Bojan Bogdanovic, the Rockets won the regular-season series (2-1) by an average margin of 9.5 points. During a 126-117 victory in late-January, Eric Gordon erupted for a career-high 50 points.
With the apparent lack of camaraderie between Utah’s All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, Houston will be in a favorable position to dismantle the Jazz while advancing to the Conference Semifinals. A more lenient first-round opponent offering less wear and tear will improve Houston’s likelihood to dispose of the Lakers en route to an appearance in the Conference Finals against either the Nuggets or Raptors — who are headed for an interconference collision course given their potential first-round competition.
In this scenario, both the Nuggets and Raptors will pose as a threat to prevent Houston from advancing to the Finals, but the momentum and self-confidence obtained by overcoming Los Angeles can propel the Rockets into the championship round in late-August.
Despite the inevitable daunting task of facing the Lakers, this hypothetical postseason run will pose a favorable challenge for the Rockets on their quest to a title. Winning a championship is never easy, but the right matchup will make the path to the Larry O’Brien trophy slightly more realistic for Houston.