As the NBA continues to prepare for its return to the court next month in Orlando, it has determined that the order in the standings will be determined by winning percentage, league sources told ESPN. That decision could play a pivotal role in how the race to take part in potential play-in games for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference plays out — specifically between the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings.
It also has been decided ties will be broken via the league’s typical tie-breaking procedures, sources said. Teams were informed of both decisions via a memo Friday night updating teams on the league’s work toward returning to play at Walt Disney World.
Both will have an impact on the eight “seeding games” that will be played at Walt Disney World and could also have an effect on a potential play-in tournament ahead of the NBA playoffs.
The 22 teams that are heading to Orlando have played varying numbers of games — anywhere from 63 (the San Antonio Spurs) on the low end and 67 (the Dallas Mavericks) on the high end. Because the league chose to have each of the 22 teams play eight “seeding games” in Orlando, that imbalance in the schedule will remain when those games have been completed.
As a result, the final order of the teams won’t be determined by how many games they are above or below .500, but instead by the team’s winning percentage.
So, for example: the Trail Blazers, Pelicans and Kings are currently tied for ninth place in the Western Conference standings and are each eight games under .500. The Trail Blazers, however, have played 66 games (29-37) and the Pelicans and Kings have played 64 (28-36). As a result, Portland is one one-thousandth of a point ahead of both the Pelicans and Kings in winning percentage heading into Orlando.
Because the NBA chose to use winning percentage to break ties, if Portland has the same record as either New Orleans or Sacramento in Orlando — and, thus, the same number of games at or under .500 for the season — Portland will finish ahead of them, despite having been swept by the Pelicans this season and having tied Sacramento.
The eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies have played 65 games — meaning that they can’t finish in a tie with any of the three teams closest behind them under any circumstances.
In its own decision-making process for a return to play, the NHL chose a similar path, opting to use “points percentage” — in other words, points per game played — to determine its playoff seeding, rather than total points when its season was suspended.
By using the league’s usual tiebreaking procedures to determine standings order when teams are tied in the standings with the same number of games played, that means the only potential play-in game the NBA will be playing is between the teams in eighth and ninth place after the eight seeding games — assuming the ninth-place team is within four games of the eighth place team. If, say, the Pelicans and Kings — who have played the same number of games — tie for ninth, they will not play a separate play-in game for the right to play against the team in eighth.
So far this season, those two teams have met once — a 117-115 victory for the Pelicans over the Kings in Sacramento on Jan. 4.
There is a small chance this could impact the East, as well, if the Brooklyn Nets — who are six games ahead of the Washington Wizards — finish tied with Washington for what presumably would be the ninth spot in the playoffs. Washington won the first two games between the two teams this season, and were scheduled to play once more.
That happening, however, would require the Wizards to finish with six more wins than Brooklyn across those eight seeding games in Orlando.
The NBA still has several things it still needs to address before the season resumes. It has yet to announce what the schedule for each of the 22 teams will be, though it is expected to be at least based off of the remaining games teams had on their schedule among the teams going to Disney World before the season was suspended. It still is working through its health and safety protocols for what its campus environment in Orlando will look like, and it still has to finalize any decisions on roster expansion or the ability for teams to sign players.