A nation’s thoughts are focused on the tragedy of George Floyd’s death and also the destruction suffered in Philadelphia and many other cities by rioters.

People also continue to deal with the devastation of COVID-19.

This has been the harshest of years and we aren’t even at the midway point. It might seem trivial to discuss basketball or any other sport at this time, but it is also what we do. Calling sports a diversion is too simplistic, but there are people who are looking forward to following the competition.

For those who say sports doesn’t matter at this time, it is a truly understandable take. Yet for those who are anxious for a return during these unsettled times, we have some NBA content for you.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Monday during the pandemic. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @sjnard. Thank you for reading.

— Marc Narducci (offthedribble@inquirer.com)

What is the best format for the NBA’s return?

The NBA appears headed to announce the restart of it season and it can’t come soon enough for fans. Published reports have indicated the apparent restart of the season will be July 31.

An NBA source confirmed to The Inquirer what others have reported, that the NBA Board of Governors will be meeting on Thursday. While the source said it’s not definite that the matter will be resolved, most feel that will be the case.

So even if the games are played without fans at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., there are many who will be glad to see the season resume since it was suspended on March 11, shortly after the 76ers improved to 39-26 with a 124-106 win over the Detroit Pistons.

An NBA source told The Inquirer that bringing back all 30 teams is likely not to happen, something that multiple outlets have also reported. While the source said no exact format has been settled on, it appears that a 22-team return is the leader in the clubhouse.

ESPN reported that a 22-team plan would include teams that are currently within six games of the final playoff spots in each conference. In the Eastern Conference there is just one team within six games, Washington, which is 5.5 games behind current No. 8 seed Orlando. The five teams in the West that are within six games of No. 8 seed Memphis are Portland, New Orleans and Sacramento, which are all 3.5 games behind Memphis, San Antonio (4 games out) and Phoenix (6 games out).

It seems as though if the NBA is bringing these teams back, that it will want to have some regular season games for all teams. If so, how many regular season games should be played? And who should the teams play? For instance, should the six teams vying for the final playoff spot, along with the two No. 8 seeds, play either other in a mini tournament? What happens to teams locked into playoff spot?

The Sixers are currently the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. They have the identical record of No. 5 Indiana and are two games behind No. 4 Miami.

If the NBA is adding regular season games and the belief is that it would be at least 70 and possibly 72, then the Sixers would have enough games (they are five from 70 and seven from 72) to overtake Indiana and Miami and earn the No. 4 seed.

That No. 4 seed would be more meaningful if there were a home court, since the Sixers are an NBA-best 29-2 at the Wells Fargo Center this year.

If the NBA goes with the traditional 16-team playoffs, eight per conference, then the Sixers would actually be better off staying where they are. If they moved up to No. 4 or No. 5, they would almost certainly have to face the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. (Plus we think they match up better with a first-round meeting against the Boston Celtics, who the Sixers would play if the current seeds hold).

We know that in order to win a title, a team has to beat all the top contenders, but playing Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference finals, after which the Sixers would have gained the momentum of two series wins, would be more ideal.

No matter what the scenario, the Sixers are a team that can’t be discounted. They had a disappointing regular season, but if Ben Simmons returns to form off his back injury and Joel Embiid is fresh and in shape, there isn’t a team that would relish having to meet them in any round.

Tobias Harris marches in a Philadelphia protest over the weekend.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Tobias Harris marches in a Philadelphia protest over the weekend.

Starting Five

The Sixers’ statement after George Floyd’s death: Racism faced by black community “unacceptable”

The 76ers’ Tobias Harris marched in the Philadelphia protest of the death of George Floyd.

Murphy has an innovative idea that he would like to see the NBA return with.

Keith Pompey writes that the NBA is considering pushing up free agency period before draft.

Versatile Section

Sunday was the 37th anniversary of the Sixers’ most recent championship in 1983. The Inquirer recently published a 12-part series on the Sixers’ most memorable playoff games and this game was our No. 1 choice.

The Sixers swept the Los Angeles Lakers in four games in 1983. The clincher was May 31 when the visiting Sixers scored a 115-108 win.

While this occurred 37 years ago, what is most surprising is how much the NBA game has changed. This was an era of the Lakers Showtime basketball, which was fast-breaking and exciting, but it didn’t include a lot of three-pointers.

In this clincher, the Sixers attempted just one three-pointer, with Andrew Toney missing the lone attempt. The Lakers were just 1 for 3, with Michael Cooper hitting 1 of 2 from beyond the arc.

Here are a couple of other interesting facts:

  • Nobody on the Lakers had more than seven rebounds, while Moses Malone had a game-high 23.
  • Malone had 22 field goal attempts, 23 rebounds and 24 points.
  • Toney led the Sixers with nine assists .
  • Bobby Jones, who was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year that season, scored 13 points and hit 6 of 7 from the field.
  • Both Toney and Lakers point guard Magic Johnson hit 11 of 12 free throws.

Johnson had 27 points and 13 assists while playing all 48 minutes, but he also committed nine of the Lakers 20 turnovers.

Sixers' Shake Milton figures to get important rotation minutes when the season resumes, whether he starts or not.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Sixers' Shake Milton figures to get important rotation minutes when the season resumes, whether he starts or not.

Passing the Rock

Question: How will Shake M. add value to the 76ers starting lineup if he is given a starters role ahead of Al Horford as reports are indicating? - Shivam Patel from Facebook.

Answer: That is a great question and thanks for sending it in Shivam. If Shake Milton were to start for Horford, and I still have my doubts, it would do wonders for the Sixers’ spacing. Horford has not found a comfort zone with Joel Embiid needing so much space down low. Milton not only helps with spacing, he will help limit the double-teams on Embiid if he continues to be a three-point threat. Milton is shooting 45.3 percent from three-point range, but 51.2 percent in his last 20 games, when his minutes began increasing. Whether Milton starts or not, I think he has earned himself significant rotation minutes and the Sixers will benefit when he is in the lineup.