2020-2021 NBA Season Timeline: The Details


Original Photo | Pepsi Center – Home of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets

Henry Smith, Journalist

Most NBA fans already know the news, but the 2020-2021 NBA Season is officially starting on December 22, only 72 days after the Lakers took Game 6 to win the 2020 NBA Finals, marking the shortest offseason in American pro sports history. While the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat only have a 72 day break, all the teams that didn’t get invited to the NBA Bubble have not played a single game since March 11, and their offseason will have lasted 286 days or around 9 and a half months.

While many NBA players, including LeBron James, the current ‘face of the NBA’ to many, were completely opposed to starting the season on December 22nd, the NBA went through with it anyway, to make the season and the future of the NBA better in many ways, such as being able to play 72 regular season games, having Christmas Day games and MLK Day games, having an All-Star Break and being able to complete a normal NBA Playoffs before the 2021 Summer Olympics.  More importantly, the NBA will likely be able to start the 2021-2022 season at a normal time and get the schedule back on track without having an extremely short season. Also, the NBA needed a way to make up for the 1.5 billion dollars it lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 NBA Bubble. Starting on December 22 was the most logical choice for the NBA, and I’m sure many fans are extremely happy about it starting so soon too. 

In this article, I will be making a guide about how the upcoming NBA season will look, and everything you need to know. 

2020 NBA Preseason | December 1st – December 19th, 2020

December 1st, 2020

Training camps begin. This is when teams will officially start practicing, giving them exactly three weeks to prepare before the regular season begins. This date marks the end of the 2020 offseason. 

December 11th – December 19th, 2020

The 2020 NBA Preseason begins on December 11, lasting eight days. This is the same length as the preseason before the 2020 NBA Bubble games began, so each team will probably play 2-3 preseason games. As of November 23, there is no information on who each team will play yet during preseason, but there will probably be no matchups against international teams like there would be in a normal preseason, and each team will probably play teams that are relatively close to them geographically to limit travel because of COVID-19. 

2020-2021 NBA Regular Season | December 22nd, 2020 – May 16th, 2021

December 22nd, 2020 – March 4th, 2021

The NBA Regular Season begins. Each team will play 72 games and the schedule will be split in two halves. The first half will be played from December 22 to March 4. Then, there will be a six day break, from March 5 to March 10. The second half of the regular season will begin on March 11, and end on May 16. 

Scheduling for Teams

As far as the schedules go, teams will play every team in their own conference three times for a total of 42 conference matchups. Teams will play every out-of-conference two times, for a total of 30 games. According to an article by ESPN, the full first half schedule will be released around when training camps begin (Dec. 1).

Home and away games for conference opponents will work a little differently between teams, since every team is now playing conference opponents three times each, not the usual four games.  The NBA states in an official schedule release: “All five teams from within a division will play all five teams from one other intraconference division twice at home, and all five teams from the remaining intraconference division twice on the road.”. As far as division matchups go, each team will be randomly assigned two teams where they play two games at home, and two teams where they play away twice. The location of interconference matchups (West vs East) will be the same as normal: One game at home, one game away. 

Attendance at Games

As far as the situation with fans goes, it is unknown if (and when) fans may be able to attend games, but as of right now with the current COVID-19 protocols, there will likely not be fans for the beginning of the season. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic in a Tweet, the NBA is expecting five to ten teams to host some amount of fans at the beginning of the season, as of November 16th. This may change though given the current outbreak of COVID-19, and we have no idea what the situation would look like by December 22.

March 5th – March 10th, 2021

NBA All-Star break. Even though it is called an ‘All-Star Break’, there will not be an all star game this season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

March 11th, 2021

The second half of the regular season begins. Fans might be able to attend games starting this date depending on what the league decides for the second half schedule. The full second half schedules for each team will be released near the end of the first half, probably in late February or early March. An article by ESPN states that any games in the first half that have been postponed for any reason will also be played in the second half. 

May 16th, 2021

The 72 game NBA Regular Season ends. The 1st through 6th seeds in each conference clinch a playoff berth, the 7th through 10th seeds compete in a play-in tournament for the last two playoff berths, and the 11th through 15th seeds are eliminated from playoff contention. 

2021 NBA Postseason (Play-In Tournament / Playoffs) | May 18th – July 22nd, 2021

May 18th – May 21st, 2021

The NBA Play-In Tournament begins on May 18, 2021. The 7th – 10th seeds meet in each conference play with a play-in tournament where there will be 7th vs 8th seed games and 9th vs 10th seed games. Whoever wins the 7-8 game advances to the playoffs as the 7th seed, and plays the 2nd seed in the first round. The teams losing in the 9-10 game for each conference are eliminated from playoff contention. Then, the losers of the 7-8 games play the winners of the 9-10 game in each respective conference. Whoever wins this game takes the 8th seed, and plays the 1st seed in the first round. 

May 22nd – June 6th, 2021

The first round of the NBA Playoffs begins on May 22, 2021. At this time, the playoff format will be the same as what it has always been. Currently, there is no information on whether the playoffs will be played in a bubble like last year or if teams will travel, and whether there will be fans or not, since the COVID-19 situation will be completely different by then. That information will be decided near the end of the regular season, once the league has more of an idea of how COVID-19 will be by the time the playoffs roll around. 

June 7th – June 21st, 2021

The Second Round / Conference Semifinals begins.

June 22nd – July 7th, 2021

The Conference Finals begins. From June 29th to July 4th, the four remaining qualifying tournaments for the 2021 Olympics will be happening, which is in the middle of the Conference Finals, and the two events could conflict with each other depending on which players are still in the playoffs at this time. 

July 8th – July 22nd, 2021

The 2021 NBA Finals begins. The latest date the Finals will end is July 22, 2021, just one day before the 2021 Summer Olympics begin.