Basketball game playing on a television

NBA 2020-21 Season Preview: What to Expect

During a normal year, NBA fans follow their favorite season from mid-October to early April. But 2020 has been anything but normal–the pandemic forcing play to stop in March and then pick back up from late July to mid-October with the league playing in a bubble. Fast forward to present day and while the year might be coming to an end, the 2020-21 NBA season is just getting started.

Here’s everything you need to know as you get ready to watch your favorite teams and games this season.

What will the 2020-21 NBA schedule look like?

Perhaps the biggest change from when we last watched the NBA is that the 2020-21 season is not being planned inside a bubble. Instead, the league is moving forward with playing games in home markets, with the exception of Toronto due to travel restrictions.

The 2020-21 NBA season will begin on December 22 and run through May 16, with preseason games taking place from December 11-19. Each team will play a minimum of two games in the preseason and a maximum of four games as part of a 49-game schedule. The regular season will be limited to 72 games instead of the usual 82 games.

The NBA is planning to release the schedule in two segments, the first half expected in early December for games through early March and the second to be released toward the end of that first half. Currently, the plan is for each team to play three games against each intraconference opponent (42 total) and two against each interconference opponent (30 games) pursuant to an opponent matrix

Additional key dates include the All-Star break March 5-10 (with plans for a revised NBA All-Star 2021 to be announced at a later date), the second half from March 11 – May 16, the Play-In Tournament May 18-21, and the 2021 NBA Playoffs May 22 – July 22.

Will fans be able to attend NBA games this season?

Each team is releasing its own plans for having fans in attendance, which the league is tracking. Due to travel restrictions, the Toronto Raptors will begin the season in Tampa, Florida and will adjust plans as needed going forward.

Where can I watch the 2020-21 NBA season?

Regular season NBA games are split between ESPN and TNT. ESPN and ABC combine for postseason games, with ABC serving as the exclusive network for the NBA Finals.

Watch live on your television or through your TV provider’s streaming app on mobile devices and tablets.

Regular season games are also available on a limited basis from several streaming providers. YouTube TV, Sling, and AT&T TV have ESPN, TNT and NBA TV. Hulu + Live TV has ESPN and TNT, but not NBA TV. Fubo TV has ESPN and NBA TV, but not TNT.

For studio coverage, classic games, and documentaries, you can also check out NBA TV + League Pass, however, keep in mind that games that are locally televised or nationally televised are not available to watch live on NBA League Pass or NBA TV. 

*Note: schedules are subject to change and blackout restrictions may apply.

What are the safety protocols for the season?

The NBA notes it is testing players daily, beginning with individual workouts that commenced on December 1st. If there are independent cases or a small “expected number” (as the NBA puts it) with no spread among players or staff, those cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the season. 

For those who do test positive (player, staff or other personnel), they will need to either go i) 10 days or more after the first positive test or onset of symptoms, or ii) test negative twice at least 24 hours apart via PCR testing before returning to work. For players, a positive test requires the player to wait 10 days and then be monitored in individual workouts for an additional two days.

With the league returning to home arenas (with the exception of Toronto until further notice), team traveling parties are being limited to 45 people, including 17 players. The league is also setting up an anonymous tip line for reporting of suspected violations of any safety protocols.

How will the NBA Playoffs work?

The Play-In Tournament will feature the teams with the 7th-highest through 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference. The team with the 7th-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the 8th-highest winning percentage in a Play-In Game (called the “Seven-Eight Game”). The winner of that game will earn the No. 7 seed in each conference.

Similarly, the 9th- and 10th-highest winning percentage in each conference will play in the “Nine-Ten Game,” with the 9th-highest team acting as host. The loser of the Seven-Eight Game will host the winner of the Nine-Ten Game in a Play-In Game that will determine the No. 8 seed in each conference.

Let the games begin

Although this season won’t bring a complete return to normal, and there will likely be many changes and schedule shifts throughout, sports fans can certainly look forward to getting their NBA fix from home this winter. 

Remember, of course, to check the relevant websites for terms, conditions, updated schedules, pricing and availability. 

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