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NBA returns with 22 teams, including Buffaloes alumni

The league will start up July 31.

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers

After a months-long pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA will finally return on July 31. The league will have an isolated campus at Disney World where 22 teams will compete for 16 playoff spots, before beginning the playoffs per usual.

The NBA decided to include the 16 teams currently in a playoff position, five teams competing for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, and the Washington Wizards, who are technically still in the playoff race but they’re not going to get close. The wrinkle to this idea is that when the regular season ends after eight “seeding games,” the 8th- and 9th-seeded teams will have a play-in game, insofar as the 9th-seed is fewer than four games back in the standings.

What this means from a CU basketball perspective is that four Buffs are coming back to play. That would be Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets, Derrick of the San Antonio Spurs, and Andre Roberson of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Dinwiddie’s return might be the most interesting. The Nets brought in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last offseason, but KD was recovering from an Achilles tear and wouldn’t be ready until the 2020-21 season, so this was something of a gap year for them. This became even clearer when Irving suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. However, the season has been postponed by four months and there’s a possibility — but very likely not going to happen — that both return in time for the playoffs. If it happens, the Nets could be a dark horse contender. It is doesn’t happen, Dinwiddie will be their primary scorer in the playoffs, which is really cool to see from our perspective, but it means Brooklyn won’t make it very hard.

That also brings us to Andre Roberson, who hasn’t played basketball since January of 2018, when he suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. He was originally supposed to return in December 2018, but he has hit set-back after set-back. The good news is that he re-joined the Thunder just before the pandemic shutdown and will have four additional months of recovery before games commence. Back in April, Roberson said on Nate Tomlinson’s podcast, “I am kinda past the rehab process. ... I am almost to the point where I should be playing, honestly.”

While Dinwiddie and Roberson are virtual locks to make the playoffs, Derrick White will face an uphill struggle to make the playoffs. The Spurs are 12th in the West right now, four games back from the 8th-seeded Grizzlies. Whoever finishes with the 9th-seed will have a play-in game for the final playoff spot, but the Spurs would have to jump the Kings, Pelicans and Trail Blazers just to get to 9th. Considering how well the Pelicans were playing with Zion Williamson, and that the Blazers are returning Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, it might be impossible for San Antonio to get there. Still, it’s high-pressure basketball for White, where he shines brightest.

*UPDATE*

I forgot Alec Burks was traded from Golden State to Philadelphia, so Burks will also be involved in Orlando. His 76ers have had a weird season, but this delay could benefit them as Ben Simmons will presumably return from back surgery. That might lessen Burks' role on the team as a facilitator, but he should still see heavy minutes off the bench. The 76ers are locked into a playoff spot and will be fighting for a top-4 seed.