The NBA’s proposal to start next season on December 22 is an admission that league officials don’t expect to be able to fill arenas with fans any time soon, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. There had been rumors that the league was looking at Martin Luther King Day or possibly later as a start date to maximize the chances of having a COVID-19 vaccine that would allow large gatherings to resume. Hollinger believes the NBA is now considering the 2020/21 season a “sunk cost” and is focusing on having a normal timetable for 2021/22.

To make that happen, the league needs to fit in a shortened 72-game season in roughly four months — from late December through the end of April. That would leave time for a play-in tournament that’s also included in the league’s plans, followed by two months of playoffs that would finish by early July.

Hollinger notes that a precedent of sorts was set in the 2011/12 season when labor strife forced the league to adopt a 66-game schedule that ran from Christmas Day to April 26. He envisions something similar this year, but without teams being asked to play on three straight nights. Hollinger suggests that non-conference games might be eliminated, cutting down travel significantly, and leaving each team with eight games against each division rival and four games against each conference opponent from outside the division.