Watch Now: How NBA Schedule Impacts Race For 8-Seed (2:03)

Had the 2019-20 NBA season played out normally, the Los Angeles Lakers, based on opponent winning percentage, would've had the 18th-toughest remaining schedule as of March 11, when the league was suspended in the wake of Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19. 

Now when play resumes on July 30 in Orlando, the Lakers will have the league's third-toughest closing slate. It shouldn't matter much. The Lakers have a six-game lead in the loss column over the No. 2 Clippers, who have a better chance of falling out of the West's top four than they do of catching LeBron James and company. 

It's the bottom of the West where some of the best drama could play out, with five current non-playoff teams within four games of the No. 8 seed, which is currently occupied by Memphis. 

As has been well chronicled, each of the 22 teams invited to Orlando will play eight "seeding" games constituting the conclusion of the regular season, at which point the Nos. 1-7 seeds in each conference will be locked in. If the No. 9 seed in either conference is within four games of the No. 8 seed, there will be a playoff for the final spot(s) with the lower seed having to beat the higher seed twice. From there, a traditional playoff format will commence.  

With that in mind, let's take a look at the respective conference standings, the tightest races and current playoff matchups as the resumption of the season sits just over a month out. 

Western Conference

Team/SeedRecordCurrent Matchup

1. Lakers

49-14 (--)

vs. Grizzlies

2. Clippers

44-20 (5.5 GB)

vs. Mavericks

3. Nuggets

43-22 (7 GB)

vs. Rockets

4. Jazz

41-23 (8.5 GB)

vs. Thunder

5. Thunder

40-24 (9.5 GB)

at Jazz

6. Rockets

40-24 (9.5 GB)

at Nuggets

7. Mavericks

40-27 (11 GB)

at Clippers

8. Grizzlies

32-33 (18 GB)

at Lakers

As you can see, the Lakers are currently matched up against the Grizzlies in the first round, but that's far from solidified. As you'll see below, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento and San Antonio are all within four games in the loss column of the Grizzlies, who have the sixth-toughest remaining schedule. 

The Pelicans, meanwhile, have the easiest road in Orlando while the Kings have the third easiest. The Blazers, a conference finals team from a year ago, could be at full strength when play resumes with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back in the lineup.

Which is to say, however the No. 8 seed shakes out, the Lakers, who will be without the services of starter Avery Bradley, are in for a legitimately tough first-round matchup. 

Another thing that jumps out here is the Clippers' three-game lead over the No. 4 Jazz, who will be playing without Bojan Bogdanovic. In other words, the chances of the Clippers falling past the No. 3 seed are slim, which keeps them on the opposite side of the bracket from the Lakers, which puts the two L.A. teams on a conference finals collision course. 

As far as the 3-6 seeds, obviously a lot can change in eight games with just two games separating Denver and Houston at each end of that spectrum, and one game separating 4-6. 

Of course, normally this would be a race for home-court advantage in the first round, but this year that's irrelevant. So this becomes about matchups. You have to wonder what kind of manipulating we might see as teams chase preferred first-round matchups and sides of the bracket. 

Race for No. 8

TeamRecordGames Behind No. 8 Seed

9. Trail Blazers


4 (in loss column)

10. Pelicans


3 (in loss column)

11. Kings 


3 (in loss column)

12. Spurs


3 (in loss column)

13. Suns


6 (in loss column)

The win-percentage tiebreaker rule instituted during this unique format could greatly benefit the Blazers, who have more losses than the Pelicans, and are actually 0-3 in head-to-head matchups vs. New Orleans this season, but by virtue of playing two more games have a slightly better win percentage. We'll see if that factors in. 

Eastern Conference

Team/SeedRecordCurrent Matchup

1. Bucks

53-12 (--)

vs. Magic

2. Raptors

46-18 (6.5 GB)

vs. Nets

3. Celtics

43-21 (9.5 GB)

vs. 76ers

4. Heat

41-24 (12 GB)

vs. Pacers

5. Pacers

39-26 (14 GB)

at Heat

6. 76ers

39-26 (14 GB)

at Celtics

7. Nets

30-34 (22.5 GB)

at Raptors

8. Magic

30-35 (23 GB)

at Bucks

Boston vs. Philadelphia in the first round? That would be something, but the Sixers have a chance to move up a couple spots with the second easiest remaining schedule in Orlando. The Raptors, meanwhile, have the hardest remaining schedule in Orlando, but it would be nearly impossible for them to fall any lower than the No. 3 seed. Boston and Toronto play on August 7, and that game could settle a lot. 

Having said that, what's the difference between the No. 2 and 3 seed? The answer is nothing ... other than a different first-round matchup, which could be a big deal. Whoever ends up in the No. 6 seed will be a far tougher matchup than the Nets or Magic. 

Miami, like the Lakers, got a tough break with its Orlando schedule. Had the season continued under normal conditions, the Heat would've had the 14th-toughest remaining schedule; now they have the second toughest. 

Race for No. 8

TeamRecordGames Behind No. 8 Seed

9. Wizards


5 (in loss column)

The Wizards are the only current non-playoff team from the Eastern Conference to be invited to Orlando, and you have to wonder just how hard they'll actually be trying to get into the playoffs. Davis Bertans has already announced he's not going to play, and as long as the Wizards miss the playoffs, their lottery odds will be calculated based on where they stood in the standings when play was suspended, which would have them slotted for a top-10 pick. 

But if they do crack the postseason, they will fall completely out of the lottery. That's potentially five or more draft slots they could lose all for the right to get smashed in the first round against the Bucks -- without even the benefit of at least two home games of revenue. I wouldn't be surprised if Bradley Beal plays limited minutes and then bounces from Orlando the second the Wizards are mathematically eliminated.