There will be three types of people in the NBA two weeks from now. Group 1 is those who won’t be in the play-in tournament. Group 2 is those who will use it to get to the playoffs. Group 3 is those who will make the tournament and see their seasons end there.
- Group 1 won’t care.
- Group 2 will love it.
- Group 3 will hate it.
The play-in tournament, which starts May 18, is just two weeks away. Fans will embrace it, and the ratings will be significant since the games will all absolutely matter, and that’s what everybody wants. The games will have an NCAA Tournament feel, win-or-else, Game 7-type stuff. All six games will either send a team to the playoffs, send a team home, or both.
There’s a lot to like about all of that.
There also will be naysayers, the level of volume of their complaints when it’s all said and done to be determined based on what transpires. There’s a chance that a No. 7 or No. 8 team – a team that would have ordinarily gone to the playoffs – will get bumped. There’s also a chance that someone will get hurt as if 73 or 74 games is somehow that much more physically demanding than 72 games.
For now, those who need something to complain about will complain about the play-in games because they’re low-hanging fruit, easy to pounce upon. LeBron James said whoever came up with the tournament “needs to be fired,” offering that opinion Sunday night after the Los Angeles Lakers lost to Toronto in a game that moved the defending champions closer to possibly falling into the play-in round.
It should be noted that the Raptors played that game with desperation – almost like they want to get into the play-in round or something. If Toronto is going to the playoffs, the play-in is the only realistic path toward getting there. And other teams are embracing it as well because of the second-chance opportunity it provides.
For the league, the teams that get to play host these games, and the television partners, the six extra games will mean more revenue. (Spoiler alert: That’s good for everyone.) It will be more games for the teams involved immediately after a jammed season and, for some, a short offseason. They may say that’s unfair, especially if they lose these games.
Here’s a way to avoid that unfairness: don’t finish seventh, eighth, ninth, or 10th.
The 12 teams with top-six seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences will get basically a week off before the playoffs start. They won’t complain about that. The 10 teams that miss everything won’t complain either since they’ll be too busy packing for vacation. And the four teams that earn playoff spots from the play-in games, they’ll be sending the league thank-you notes.
The four teams that go to the play-in and get eliminated, they’ll probably blast the format instead of putting the blame for missing the playoffs where it belongs – on themselves. If traditionalists don’t like change because, well, they just don’t like change, that’s understandable. But just imagine some of the possibilities that might await two weeks from now: Stephen Curry and Golden State against Gregg Popovich and San Antonio in an elimination game, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat – East finalists last year – facing off in a one-game showdown, or Damian Lillard in another high-drama moment that he’s embraced plenty of times already in his career.