The NBL’s tip-off has been delayed again by COVID-19, with the league scrambling to issue a revised two-round draw just four days before the season was due to commence.
Outbreaks in NSW and Victoria have forced teams based in those states to scatter ahead of what should have been the season opener between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix on Sunday.
The Phoenix are now based in Hobart along with the New Zealand Breakers, while United will remain in Cairns and the Sydney Kings are in Albury with Wollongong’s Hawks.
The Taipans will instead launch the season in Cairns, against the Brian Goorjian-led Hawks next Friday as part of a two-round schedule re-issued on Wednesday.
Perth will host United later that night in a season-launching double header, with two games each on Saturday and Sunday to complete the first round.
Round two will feature seven games in seven days in the lead-up to and during the Australia Day long weekend.
Games will be broadcast live on SBS Viceland, ESPN and New Zealand’s Sky Sport.
The latest schedule – reduced from the five-round plan announced in early December – is a relief for the league’s restless players who have already accepted significant pay cuts to combat the financial impact of COVID-19 on clubs.
Thirteen games have been scheduled so far – to be played in front of crowds in Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide and Perth – in an effort to navigate logistical challenges of border closures and quarantine necessary to curb the virus.
Officials are confident a rolling fixture will still accommodate Melbourne’s NBL Cup hub concept late next month and that a champion will be crowned in June.
“We always knew we would have to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and the travel restrictions that would be imposed by our various state governments from time to time,” NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said.
“This is why we proceeded on the basis of a rolling schedule, which will hopefully minimise the inconvenience for our teams and our fans.
“The changes we have made to the schedule ensure the season can get underway in a timely manner.
“We will wait and see how things progress around the country over the coming weeks before we finalise the schedule for the following three rounds leading into the NBL Cup in the Melbourne NBL Hub.”
Loeliger said the league remained committed to all nine teams playing 36 games across four weeks as part of the Melbourne Hub next month, while he is hopeful the Breakers will return to play home games later in the season.
REVISED NBL SCHEDULE
* Friday, January 15: Taipans v Hawks, Wildcats v United
* Saturday, January 16: 36ers v Phoenix, Bullets v Kings
* Sunday, January 17: Taipans v Hawks, Wildcats v Breakers
* Wednesday, January 20: 36ers v Breakers
* Thursday, January 21: Bullets v United
* Friday, January 22: 36ers v Phoenix
* Saturday, January 23: Taipans v Kings
* Sunday, January 24: Breakers v Wildcats
* Monday, January 25: Taipans v Phoenix
* Tuesday, January 26: Bullets v Hawks