The NBA is ready to return. A season that was put on hold early in March will resume on Thursday, albeit in an unexpected location, with a revised format but without any fans.
Basketball has had to adapt amid a global health pandemic, putting in place a plan complete with strict health and safety protocols due to coronavirus.
A bubble has been formed at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. Move over Mickey Mouse and the rest of the gang, LeBron James and company are the stars now. Forget all about Space Mountain and instead take in the roller-coaster ride that is the NBA Playoffs.
SO HOW EXACTLY IS THIS GOING TO WORK?
Rather than finish off the remainder of the regular season before starting the playoffs, the NBA devised a new system to decide who progresses.
The change means not all teams will be playing in Florida, as the field has been reduced to 22. That number, however, does not include an even split between Eastern and Western Conference.
Instead, there will be 13 from the East and nine from the West, with each to play eight "seeding" games which will be added to their regular-season records.
ARE ALL THE PLAYERS INVOLVED, THOUGH?
No. The NBA has permitted those with concerns to voluntarily opt out without any punishments, either from the league or their teams, though they will lose a portion of their salaries.
Several have done just that due to health concerns or family reasons. Being in a bio-secure bubble for so long (teams entered early in July) left some with a difficult choice to make.
Those who have tested positive for coronavirus are also ruled out. For example, DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie will not be in action for the Brooklyn Nets, who are also without injured duo Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
If you think that is unfortunate, the Nets signed Michael Beasley to take the roster spot belonging to Taurean Prince due to the latter having COVID-19, only for the replacement to then also be ruled out after he was diagnosed with the virus.
WHAT IS THE FORMAT FOR THE PLAYOFFS?
There will still be 16 teams involved, and those who had already clinched a berth are safe.
It will be a traditional format, where the top seeds play the eighth-ranked team and so on. They will be best-of-seven matchups too, though obviously home advantage no longer exists.
However, there is a potentially interesting wrinkle. The seven teams with the best record will advance, but there has been a subtle change for the last spot in each Conference.
If the franchise sitting eighth has a four-game cushion over the team sitting behind, they go through as per usual. If the margin is inside four, however, a play-in tournament will be required.
A PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT - WHAT'S THAT?
Okay, so the eighth and ninth seeds will play in a best-of-two-game series, with the lower-ranked team needing to win both head-to-head contests to deny their opponents and progress to the playoffs.
This is the reason why there are a different number of teams from each conference, as only those within range of qualifying have been invited to participate.
Looking at the standings, the Memphis Grizzlies sit eighth right now in the West, yet their 32-33 record means five teams – the Portland Trail Blazers (29-37), the Pelicans (28-36), the Sacramento Kings (28-36), the San Antonio Spurs (27-36) and the Phoenix Suns (26-39) – are close enough to get within four games.
In the East, however, the last two berths look set to be filled by the Nets (30-34) and the Orlando Magic (30-35), who occupy those positions currently. The Washington Wizards (24-40) have serious ground to make up if they want to make the postseason.
WHEN WILL THE FINALS START?
The target date for the best from the East and West to start their series is September 30.
It should be noted that, while the basketball is going on in the Orlando bubble, there are other important dates in this rearranged league calendar.
The NBA Lottery is scheduled for August 25, while the Draft is set for October 16 (after the postseason has concluded).
Once the rookies have found out where they will next call home, free agency comes just around the corner. Well, less of a corner and more a matter of hours.
The NBA's annual moratorium (when teams and players can come to verbal agreements over deals) starts at 00:01 ET on October 19 and continues through to 12:00 ET on October 23.
After all that, there is time to relax... until the 2020-21 season tips off on December 1.