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NBA bubble, explained: A complete guide to the rules, teams, schedule & more for Orlando games

NBA bubble, explained: A complete guide to the rules, teams, schedule & more for Orlando games 1

The NBA bubble seemed like a ridiculous concept when introduced months ago as the league weighed options to restart its 2019-20 season. Hundreds of NBA players in the same place, all but shut off from the rest of the world, for almost three months?

Yet here we are, with the NBA bubble seeming like a viable — albeit, wacky — solution to the problems associated with playing professional sports during a global pandemic.

There’s no telling how the situation inside the NBA bubble will evolve as it relates to COVID-19, but the league at least was able to bring the 22 teams it invited to Orlando into the bubble in a relatively safe manner. In order for the league to keep the season going and to complete a full slate of playoff games, though, the rules of the NBA bubble will need to be followed closely.

NBA POWER RANKINGS: Bucks, Lakers top SN’s Disney bubble edition

If it works, the NBA bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., will be the site of every game on the NBA schedule through early October. And a 2019-20 NBA champion will be crowned in a relatively empty arena with no fans present.

Some view the situation as illegitimate and worthy of an asterisk next to the name of the team that wins this year’s NBA championship. Others view it as a unique challenge, and that this year’s champion will wear the title like a badge of honor given the circumstances.

Either way, it’s amazing that the NBA has been able to pull this off. Here’s all you need to know about the measures the league took to form the NBA bubble in Orlando. Details of the NBA’s bubble protocols are from ESPN, which obtained the 100-plus-page document the league sent to its players.

What is the NBA bubble?

The concept is simple. The NBA figured, as long as it could get all players, coaches and team/league personnel packed into one place — with COVID-19 testing assuring that none have been infected with the virus, of course — and not let any non-essential people in, it could preserve the health and safety for all involved.

This is why the NBA felt comfortable pressing forward with the bubble in Orlando even as coronavirus cases in Florida spiked over the summer. In theory, that shouldn’t matter, because nobody other than those who have been invited and tested are allowed to enter the bubble, anyway.

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Nobody from the 22 teams (more on those later) that were invited to resume the NBA season in the bubble were required to participate, as people who are determined by the team or by medical experts to be high risk for COVID-19 are protected/excused and will not lose salary. Players who opt out but are not deemed high risk lose the corresponding number of game checks up to a cap of 14 games.

Several NBA players, including some big names, opted out of the situation before their teams left for the NBA bubble for varying reasons.

Teams arrived in the NBA bubble on July 7 as they prepared for the resumption of the season on July 30. If the NBA bubble works, and if the playoffs reach Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the last group of players, coaches and team/league personnel will have stayed in the bubble through Oct. 12. That’s … a long time. Naturally, players, coaches and team personnel are allowed to leave the bubble once they are eliminated from contention.

MORE: List of NBA players opting out of 2020 season restart

Where is the NBA bubble?

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., at least for a few months, is simply the NBA bubble.

The ESPN-NBA connection aside, the Walt Disney World Resort presented the league a uniquely qualified infrastructure that made the bubble concept viable. Not only is the place big enough to contain all essential NBA team and league personnel, but with security, it can be isolated from the surrounding area relatively easily. Disney World, of course, wasn’t hosting guests amid the COVID-19 pandemic, anyway, so it became a logical deal for both sides.

NBA games in the bubble are being played in three different arenas at the complex. Limited media, team executives, NBA/union personnel and inactive players are allowed in the stands, but other than a couple sponsors here and there, no fans are allowed to attend.

Team/league personnel are staying in three different hotels — The Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs, the Grand Floridian and the Yacht Club — on campus. Hotels were assigned to teams based on their places in the NBA standings, with the top four seeds in each conference getting rooms at the top-of-the-line Gran Destino Tower.

Most of the amenities at the massive resort, including pools, golf courses and lounges, are available for anybody on campus to use.

NBA bubble teams

  • 22 total teams
  • 13 from West
  • 9 from East
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The list of NBA bubble teams consists of the 16 teams that were in the playoffs based on NBA standings when the season was suspended in March, plus the six teams that were six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their respective conferences. Those six teams are the Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards.

Below are the 22 teams in the NBA bubble based on the standings.

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
  2. Toronto Raptors (46-18)
  3. Boston Celtics (43-21)
  4. Miami Heat (41-24)
  5. Indiana Pacers (39-26)
  6. Philadelphia 79ers (39-26)
  7. Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
  8. Orlando Magic (30-35)
  9. Washington Wizards (24-40)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
  2. Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
  3. Denver Nuggets (43-22)
  4. Utah Jazz (41-23)
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
  6. Houston Rockets (40-24)
  7. Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
  9. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)
  10. New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
  11. Sacramento Kings (28-36)
  12. San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
  13. Phoenix Suns (26-39)

NBA teams not in the bubble

Eastern Conference

  • Charlotte Hornets (23-42)
  • Chicago Bulls (22-43)
  • New York Knicks (21-45)
  • Detroit Pistons (20-46)
  • Atlanta Hawks (20-47)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46)

Western Conference

  • Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45)
  • Golden State Warriors (15-50)

In order to be invited the the NBA bubble in Orlando, teams had to be either in a playoff seed or within six games of the eighth seed their respective conferences. So the seasons for the Hornets, Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, Hawks, Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Warriors ended prematurely.

The 14 NBA Lottery teams will be the eight teams above plus the six teams that do participate in the NBA bubble but do not make the playoffs. These teams will be seeded in the lottery and assigned odds based on their records through March 11.

NBA bubble rules

COVID-19 testing

Upon arrival at the NBA bubble, every player, coach and staff member had to self-isolate in their rooms for up to 48 hours until they received two negative COVID-19 tests.

COVID-19 testing is done “regularly” inside the bubble, although the league has not specified exactly how often players are tested. Unique circumstances do lead to daily testing for some.

The NBA and NBPA announced on July 13 that two players out of 322 inside the bubble had tested positive and that those players had left the campus to isolate at home. On July 29, the league announced no new players had tested positive for two weeks.

The NBA has not said how many players would need to test positive inside the bubble in order to force a halt to the season, but “the occurrence of a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the resumption.”

Protocols for positive COVID-19 test

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Those who test positive for the coronavirus inside the bubble will go through a multi-step process, outlined by ESPN:

  • They will be placed in ‘Isolation Housing,’ which will be a house, hotel or other facility that is different from the individual’s previous hotel room, at a location in which no individuals who have not tested positive are residing.
  • They will be administered a second COVID-19 test as soon as possible to guard against the possibility of a false positive. If that second test comes back positive, the person will remain in isolation housing.
  • If the second test comes back negative, a third test will be administered between 24 and 48 hours after the first test. If that test also comes back negative, the person will be allowed to reenter the NBA campus. If it comes back positive, the person will remain in isolation.

The period of treatment and isolation for players who test positive is a minimum of 14 days.

Per the CDC’s guidelines, a player who tests positive and is eventually cleared will need to go through cardiac screening either two weeks after the first positive test (if he is asymptomatic) or two weeks after his symptoms clear. The player needs to pass the cardiac screening before he can return to play.

If somebody tests positive, the NBA will use video technology in an effort to trace that person’s recent interactions. Anybody who had been in close contact with the individual for at least 15 minutes or had direct contact will be tested.

Number of people per team

Initially, teams were permitted to have no more than 37 people in the NBA bubble, including players, coaches, trainers, strength coaches, equipment managers, security and front-office personnel. That will be the number through the “regular season” (more on the schedule later) and into the playoffs.

However, teams are able to add people if and when they advance in the playoffs. If a team makes it past the first round, it can add two staff members, and then another pair if the team reaches the conference finals.

Guests in the NBA bubble

Nobody in the NBA bubble is allowed to have guests — at least not yet. Things will change once the playoffs arrive.

After the first round, each of the eight teams remaining will be allowed to reserve 15-17 hotel rooms for guests, or however many players the team has on campus, one guest room per player. The guest rooms will be paid for by the players.

Naturally, the NBA has strict protocols for would-be guests. Before even being able to enter the bubble, potential guests have to self-quarantine for a week and then get tested at least twice in a three-day span. Obviously anybody who tests positive will not be allowed to enter the NBA bubble.

The guests who do make it into the NBA bubble will have to undergo daily COVID-19 testing for four days, and anybody who tests positive will be subject to the league’s protocol for everybody else in the bubble.

Leaving the NBA bubble

Players technically are allowed to leave the bubble whenever they want, but unless it’s an excused absence, doing so is not a good idea.

If anybody leaves the NBA bubble without the league’s approval and wants to get back in, that person will have to go through a minimum of a 10-day quarantine and deep nasal COVID-19 testing rather than the less intrusive shallow nasal or oral testing.

A player who leaves the NBA bubble without being excused also will get reduced pay for any game he has to miss as a result of his departure.

Those who are excused to leave the NBA bubble for family emergencies, etc., must spend four days in quarantine upon re-entry, but only if they tested negative for COVID-19 every day they were outside of the bubble.

Food in the NBA bubble

Each team has its own food room, complete with a chef, that is open 24 hours a day. Players also can order room service, and they eventually will be able to have meals at some of the restaurants on the Disney campus.

When players arrived and entered the NBA bubble in early July, it didn’t take long for several to complain about the food. (It’s worth noting that the food options reportedly improved after the 48-hour initial quarantine period.)

The snitch hotline

Yes, the NBA has set up a so-called “snitch line” so players can anonymously tell on anybody who breaks the rules of the NBA bubble and increases the risks for all involved. The discipline will range from a fine to a suspension to removal from campus.

As of mid-July, “multiple tips” had already been placed into the hotline ahead of the NBA season’s restart regarding potential protocol violators. Speaking of NBA bubble violations …

NBA bubble violations

  • Lou Williams, G, Clippers

Williams was granted approval to leave the NBA bubble for a funeral, but he made an unapproved stop at Magic City, a popular Atlanta strip club, to pick up some wings. He was forced to quarantine for 10 days inside the NBA bubble as a result.

  • Richaun Holmes, C, Kings

Holmes said he accidentally crossed the Disney World campus line to pick up a delivery of chicken wings. He was forced to spend 10 days quarantining in his hotel room.

  • Bruno Caboclo, F, Rockers

Caboclo left his hotel room during the initial 48-hour quarantine period upon entering the NBA bubble, claiming he didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to do so. He was hit with the 10-day quarantine and invasive nose swab testing.

NBA bubble schedule

The NBA season will restart with each team playing eight “regular season” games to determine playoff seeding. There also will be a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed in either conference, but only if the No. 9 seed is fewer than four games behind in the standings. Otherwise, the No. 8 seed will be safe in the bracket.

In a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed, the current No. 8 seed would need to defeat the No. 9 seed once, and the No. 9 seed would need to defeat the No. 8 seed two games in a row.

As for the timing, the first “regular season” games in the NBA’s return will be played July 31, and Game 7 of the NBA Finals (if necessary) is scheduled for Oct. 12.

Below is a day-by-day schedule for the seeding games in the NBA bubble through Aug. 14.

July 30

GameTime (ET)National TV
Jazz vs. Pelicans6:30 p.m.TNT
Clippers vs. Lakers9 p.m.TNT

July 31

GameTime (ET)National TV
Magic vs. Nets2:30 p.m.
Grizzlies vs. Trail Blazers4 p.m.NBA TV
Suns vs. Wizards4 p.m.
Celtics vs. Bucks6:30 p.m.ESPN
Kings vs. Spurs8 p.m.
Rockets vs. Mavericks9 p.m.ESPN

Aug. 1 

GameTime (ET)National TV
Heat vs. Nuggets1 p.m.ESPN
Jazz vs. Thunder3:30 p.m.ESPN
Pelicans vs. Clippers6 p.m.ESPN
76ers vs. Pacers7 p.m.
Lakers vs. Raptors8:30 p.m.ESPN

Aug. 2

GameTime (ET)National TV
Wizards vs. Nets2 p.m.
Trail Blazers vs. Celtics3:30 p.m.ABC
Spurs vs. Grizzlies4 p.m.
Kings vs. Magic6 p.m.NBA TV
Bucks vs. Rockets8:30 p.m.ABC
Mavericks vs. Suns9 p.m.

Aug. 3

GameTime (ET)National TV
Raptors vs. Heat1:30 p.m.NBA TV
Nuggets vs. Thunder4 p.m.NBA TV
Pacers vs. Wizards4 p.m.
Grizzlies vs. Pelicans6:30 p.m.ESPN
Spurs vs. 76ers8 p.m.
Lakers vs. Jazz9 p.m.ESPN

Aug. 4

GameTime (ET)National TV
Nets vs. Bucks1:30 p.m.NBA TV
Mavericks vs. Kings2:30 p.m.
Suns vs. Clippers4 p.m.NBA TV
Magic vs. Pacers6 p.m.
Celtics vs. Heat6:30 p.m.TNT
Rockets vs. Trail Blazers9 p.m.TNT

Aug. 5

GameTime (ET)National TV
Grizzlies vs. Jazz2:30 p.m.
76ers vs. Wizards4 p.m.NBA TV
Nuggets vs. Spurs4 p.m.
Thunder vs. Lakers6:30 p.m.ESPN
Raptors vs. Magic8 p.m.
Nets vs. Celtics9 p.m.ESPN

Aug. 6

GameTime (ET)National TV
Pelicans vs. Kings1:30 p.m.NBA TV
Heat vs. Bucks4 p.m.TNT
Pacers vs. Suns4 p.m.
Clippers vs. Mavericks6:30 p.m.TNT
Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets8 p.m.
Lakers vs. Rockets9 p.m.TNT

Aug. 7

GameTime (ET)National TV
Jazz vs. Spurs1 p.m.
Thunder vs. Grizzlies4 p.m.NBA TV
Kings vs. Nets5 p.m.
Magic vs. 76ers6:30 p.m.TNT
Wizards vs. Pelicans8 p.m.
Celtics vs. Raptors9 p.m.TNT

Aug. 8

GameTime (ET)National TV
Clippers vs. Trail Blazers1 p.m.TNT
Jazz vs. Nuggets3:30 p.m.TNT
Lakers vs. Pacers6 p.m.TNT
Suns vs. Heat7:30 p.m.
Bucks vs. Mavericks8:30 p.m.ESPN

Aug. 9

GameTime (ET)National TV
Wizards vs. Thunder12:30 p.m.
Grizzlies vs. Raptors2 p.m.
Spurs vs. Pelicans3 p.m.ABC
Magic vs. Celtics5 p.m.
76ers vs. Trail Blazers6:30 p.m.NBA TV
Rockets vs. Kings8 p.m.
Nets vs. Clippers9 p.m.NBA TV

Aug. 10

GameTime (ET)National TV
Thunder vs. Suns2:30 p.m.
Mavericks vs. Jazz3 p.m.NBA TV
Raptors vs. Bucks6:30 p.m.ESPN
Pacers vs. Heat8 p.m.
Nuggets vs. Lakers9 p.m.TNT

Aug. 11

GameTime (ET)National TV
Nets vs. Magic1 p.m.
Rockets vs. Spurs2 p.m.NBA TV
Suns vs. 76ers4:30 p.m.
Trail Blazers vs. Mavericks5 p.m.
Celtics vs. Grizzlies6:30 p.m.TNT
Pelicans vs. Kings9 p.m.TNT
Bucks vs. Wizards9 p.m.

Aug. 12

GameTime (ET)National TV
Pacers vs. Rockets4 p.m.NBA TV
Raptors vs. 76ers6:30 p.m.ESPN
Heat vs. Thunder8 p.m.
Clippers vs. Nuggets9 p.m.ESPN

Aug. 13

GameTime (ET) National TV
Wizards vs. CelticsTBDTBD
Trail Blazers vs. NetsTBDTBD
Kings vs. LakersTBDTBD
Bucks vs. GrizzliesTBDTBD
Pelicans vs. MagicTBDTBD
Mavericks vs. SunsTBDTBD
Spurs vs. JazzTBDTBD

Aug. 14

GameTime (ET) National TV
76ers vs. RocketsTBDTBD
Heat vs. PacersTBDTBD
Thunder vs. ClippersTBDTBD
Nuggets vs. RaptorsTBDTBD

The NBA Draft (Oct. 15) and then free agency (Oct. 18) will follow the completion of the Finals. The 2020-21 NBA regular season likely will begin Dec. 1, 2020.

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