— Sports

NBA play-in game winners will love the new format

Three types of people will be 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 starts May 18 and is just two weeks away. The games will have an NCAA Tournament feel, win-or-else, and Game 7-type stuff. All six games will either send a team to the playoffs, send a team home, or both. Fans will embrace it, and the ratings will be significant since the games will all matter, and that’s what everybody wants.

There’s a lot to like about all of that.

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 are much more physically demanding than 72 games. There also will be naysayers and the volume of their complaints when it’s all said and done to be determined based on what transpires.

For now, those who need something to complain about will complain about the play-in games because they’re low-hanging fruit and 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 generate 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 a week off before the playoffs start. They won’t complain about that. The ten teams that miss everything won’t complain 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 probably blast the format instead of blaming it for missing the playoffs where it belongs — on themselves.

If traditionalists don’t like change because they don’t like change, that’s understandable. But 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.

There isn’t much not to like about the prospects of any of those happenings.

James has some problems now, and they don’t include the play-in tournament or his take that the person who came up with the idea should be fired. His sprained right ankle hasn’t healed. He’s not in rhythm after missing a third of the season with the ankle; he didn’t look right in his two appearances since coming back, the Lakers have been awful without him, and they’re now in some serious trouble. They do not, in any way, look like a championship team at this point.

They might wind up needing the play-in. Nobody saw that coming, especially after a championship last fall, especially after James was very high — if not atop — the MVP conversation for much of the first half of the season. James doesn’t like the idea of the play-in tournament now. His stance will probably change if it is the mechanism that gets the Lakers back to the playoffs.

Whether he likes it or not, embrace the play-in idea. It’s here. It’s almost certainly here to stay.

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Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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