Erik Spoelstra on NBA’s unique restart plan amid pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA is preparing to have 22 teams finish their seasons at a fanless quarantine-type environment at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

As one of the teams included in the league’s restart plan, the Miami Heat will move from training at AmericanAirlines Arena to the complex just outside of Orlando during the first week of July, with ESPN reporting that training camps at Lake Buena Vista are expected to start around July 9-11.

It’s an unprecedented situation that calls for an unprecedented solution, as The Athletic reported that players must stay inside the “Disney bubble” and there will be COVID-19 testing every day. The season is set resume starting July 31.

“I literally didn’t start processing that mentally or emotionally until the last 24 hours,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during the weekend of coaching in a quarantine bubble, with the NBA still finalizing various aspects of its comeback plan. “Before that, it was just a concept and it seemed so far out there that they were really just words on a paper. Go to a bubble, play games without fans, compete and you don’t really internalize that. But now, yeah, that will be different. Again, you can’t discount that or discard it or minimize it. But it will be an even playing field. It will be different for everyone.”

The NBA’s plan to resume the season includes regular-season games, which the league is calling “seeding games,” and a possible play-in tournament to complete for playoff berths in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. Once the 16-team playoff field is set, the playoffs will proceed with four rounds of traditional conference-based best-of-7 playoff series.

Each of the 22 teams will play eight “seeding games” at the Disney site that will be added to their current regular-season records to determine the final standings entering the playoffs. The eight-game schedule has yet to be announced, but each team’s remaining regular-season schedule is expected to serve as a guide.

“You have to get up and running right away, and these will not be preseason games,” Spoelstra said, with the “seeding games” not including the teams that own the league’s eight worst records. “These will not be games against teams that are not playing for anything. These will be the very playoff teams that we hope to be facing two weeks later. I think in many ways, it’s the purest form of competition. It’s just going to be about basketball, competition, which team can perform at a higher level than the other team and do it without the other motivations or potential energy from a fan base.”

There are expected to be exhibition games among the 22 teams at Disney before “seeding games” begin.

The Heat owns the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference at 41-24. The eight-game format makes it possible for Miami to finish anywhere between second and sixth place in the East.

Forward Solomon Hill remains the only player on the Heat’s roster who is not currently in South Florida, as he has spent most of the shutdown in Los Angeles. All-Star wing Jimmy Butler, who was quarantining in his San Diego home, returned to Miami last week.

Here are other details surrounding the NBA’s return that have surfaced in recent days …

According to The Athletic, the tentative postseason dates are Aug. 16-17 for the play-in tournament, Aug. 18 for the start of the first round of the playoffs, Sept. 1 for the start of the second round, Sept. 15 for the start of the conference finals and Sept. 30 for Game 1 of the Finals.

The NBA is expected to allow each team to have around 35 members in its traveling party, and that number includes players and coaches, to limit the amount of people in the “Disney bubble.” The Heat said last week that no decisions have been made about who will be part of the team’s traveling party beyond, obviously, the players and Spoelstra and his top assistants.

The expectation is players who test positive for COVID-19 will have to be quarantined for a minimum of seven days and possibly 10 to 14 days, according to ESPN. Players will not be available to participate in games during that time.

ESPN also reported players will be tested for COVID-19 every night in the bubble, with test results returning the next morning as NBA teams will be contained to three specific hotels within the Disney complex.

The NBA is working on the mechanisms that will be used to replace players in this season’s resumption in the event of positive COVID-19 tests or serious injuries, according to ESPN. Though players on two-way contracts aren’t eligible for the postseason, it’s possible the NBA could change that this season because of the pandemic to help provide roster depth.

The Heat’s two-way contract players are guard Gabe Vincent and center Kyle Alexander.

In addition, there will be a one-week transaction window for all 30 teams starting around June 22, according to ESPN, that will allow teams to covert two-way contract players into NBA contracts and sign eligible free agents for the rest of season. The Heat currently does not have any open roster spots, with 15 players signed to standard deals and two players signed to two-way deals.

The NBA will reportedly determine the final order in the standings by winning percentage, even though the 22 teams resuming their seasons have played varying number of games. It also has been decided ties will be broken via the league’s typical tie-breaking procedures.

As for team practices in the bubble, The Athletic reported there is expected to be a three-hour practice window for teams in the convention center.

Players’ families will be permitted to join them in the bubble after the first round of the playoffs — likely three members at a time — according to ESPN.

RELIVING DWYANE WADE CLASSICS

Fox Sports Sun announced it will air 10 of Dwyane Wade’s best non-Finals games over the next two weeks, starting Monday night with Wade’s first NBA playoff game in 2004.

On June 20, Fox Sports Sun will broadcast a Wade marathon with four consecutive replays leading into a re-air of the “Flashback” celebration. The marathon will begin at 12 p.m. with the “Flashback” event set for 10:30 p.m. Additionally, 15 airings of vintage “Inside the Heat” episodes centered around Wade will be featured on the network.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.

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