After doing a trial run of a play-in tournament to determine the eighth seed in both conferences last season down in the Orlando bubble, the NBA may be looking to adopt the format permanently. Entering this season, the league and players approved the play-in tournament which would involve the teams ranked seventh through 10th in both conferences to determine the seventh and eighth seeds in the East and the West.
Although we’re still weeks away from the actual play-in tournament, it’s clear the purpose of the new format — to stop teams from tanking — has paid off with just under a month left in the regular season. There are still 24 teams competing for a spot in the playoffs, which is the highest the league has had in history at this point in the schedule. Unlike past seasons where teams who weren’t near the top eight of the conference would start to look ahead and rest players in an effort to gain better lottery odds, there are very few teams who are actively doing that this season. It’s lead the league to plan on implementing the play-in tournament permanently past this season.
Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated:
“The future of the play-in tournament, which was adopted on a one-year trial basis, is a huge key. But given the impact it’s already made, league sources expect easy approval to make it permanent.”
When the league approached team owners about adopting the play-in tournament for this season, it was passed unanimously by all 30 team governors, and the players approved it as well. So there’s no reason this new format won’t be made part of the NBA season going forward. The main purpose of the play-in tournament ahead of the postseason is to incentivize teams who may not be championship contenders to still remain competitive over the course of the season. The final month of the season is where teams really start to wave the white flag if they’re not within a few games of the eighth spot, but this year has been a different story.
In the East, the Raptors and Bulls are just two games back of the Wizards for the 10th spot in the play-in tournament. While in the West, the Pelicans and Kings are still technically in the running to make the play-in despite being 4.5 games back of the Warriors for the 10th spot. The play-in tournament does more than just stop teams from tanking, though, it also gives those teams near the top of the standings reason to keep winning.
Teams like the Blazers, Mavericks, Celtics, Heat, Hawks and Hornets are all trying to avoid the seventh spot in the final standings. Whichever team finishes seventh in each conference still must play at least one more game in the play-in tournament to determine their seeding, which isn’t ideal ahead of the playoffs.
Although this season hasn’t been ideal given its compact timeline, limited fans, if any, in the arena, the rise in player injuries and health and safety protocols, the play-in tournament has certainly been positive among all of this. It’s kept these late-season games compelling as seeding has become incredibly important down the stretch, and its resulted in some historic performances in the final month from players like Stephen Curry who is trying to will his team to a playoff spot. It’s unclear what format the play-in tournament will take going forward, but keeping it part of the NBA schedule seems like a smart idea for a league that is trying to limit tanking.
Courtesy: CBS Sports