The NBA Play-In Tournament has been the subject of a lot of debate over the last 30 days. Owners like Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks and players like Luka Doncic and LeBron James have all weighed in on the matter. This week, Commissioner Adam Silver publicly stated that he’d like to see the play-in tournament become a part of the NBA’s future. A closer look at the impact of a late season tournament gives credence to it’s value. Let’s take a closer look at the play-in tournament and the reasons it should be a permanent fixture in the NBA.
The NBA Play-In Tournament Should be a Yearly Feat
The NBA Play-In Tournament Added excitement among NBA fan bases
In the Eastern conference, the Boston Celtics were the only play-in team to finish the regular season with a .500 record. The general rule of thumb is that a team must have at least a .500 record at the end of the year to have shot at the postseason. The three teams with a below .500 record, the Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers, and Charlotte Hornets, would have a minimal chance if any of making the playoffs in a normal year. If we take an unbiased look at what that means for those fan bases, it is impossible to ignore that the play-in tournament gave Washington D.C., Indianapolis and Charlotte something to root for.
The Celtics’ poor record can be attributed to games missed by Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. However, the other three Eastern Conference Play-In participants performed up to expectations. The prospect of two additional games that could catapult their team into the postseason caused NBA fans in these cities to stay engaged instead of turning their attention to Major League Baseball.
It Added Meaning to Regular Season Games
On May 16th, the Golden State Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies in San Francisco. Winning this game gave the Warriors the 8th best record in the West. This meant they only needed to win one play-in game to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs. Memphis on the other hand fell to 9th in the standings, which meant they would have to win twice in order to make it to the postseason. Unfortunately for the Warriors, their fortune became misfortune when the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the 7th seed. This was largely due to injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Under normal circumstances, their victory over Memphis on the last day of the season would have come with welcome dividends.
Although the Warriors would go on to lose both play-in games, the added meaning of the last regular season game cannot be ignored. Golden State’s fan base knew that a win would double their chances of making a playoff appearance. Memphis knew that a loss would mean having to win twice just to make it in. The play-in tournament added drama to the matchup, which was good for the teams, the fans, and everyone involved with the league.
Load Management is Greatly Reduced
During Kawhi Leonard’s last season as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, the basketball world was introduced to load management. Since that season, the term has become a part of basketball vocabulary. It is now a strategy coaches unashamedly implement to protect their best players. While Gregg Popovich created the strategy to protect Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker in the latter stages of their playing career, no one could have envisioned what it would morph into.
In some instances, the play-in tournament has eliminated this strategy altogether. Down the stretch of the regular season, LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both playing heavy minutes. Injuries to both players caused the team to be 7th in the rankings. Under normal circumstances Frank Vogel would have rested them anyways. The fact that the team was jockeying for play-in position, not just postseason seeding, is the reason the two best players were in the lineup. In any other year, injuries to LeBron and AD would’ve mean 20 shot attempts for Kyle Kuzma.
Games are Filled with Suspense
Many arguments for and against the play-in tournament have been expressed. The quality of the games cannot be overlooked. A day after LeBron James made a 34 foot shot with time winding down on the shot-clock, his clutch three pointer was the lead story on every highlight show in the nation. The play-in tournament provided basketball fans with down-to-the-wire games and fantastic finishes.
Ja Morant solidified his superstar status with an overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors in the Chase center. If the NBA were to get rid of the play-in tournament, how many moments like this would be missed. The high level of play in the qualifying games is reason enough to make them a mainstay for the future.
Change is Not Always a Bad Thing
When Jim Brown retired from the NFL, he was universally recognized as the best running back in the history of the league. When Walter Payton retired, he was the all-time leader in rushing yards. No one discredited sweetness for playing in 16 games per season, four more than were played in Brown’s era. This past off-season, the NFL agreed to expand the regular season to 17 games. Does that mean Derrick Henry will become the greatest running back of all time? That remains to be seen.
The point is change is inevitable. Motivational speaker Suyash Harkare once said “Your largest fear carries your greatest growth.” Truer word have never been spoken. The fact is, some NBA purists are afraid of the play-in tournament. Should stats from the play-in games be counted with the regular season or the playoffs? Should play-in games eventually take place at neutral sites? What impact will this have on the record books? These are important questions that the league will eventually answer. However, none of them should disqualify the tournament from taking place in future seasons.
From the emergence of Ja Morant as a superstar, to the reminder that LeBron James will find a way to win, this year’s play-in tournament provided basketball fans with unforgettable moments. While some fans and players have voiced their displeasure, the product speaks for itself; the tournament should be here to stay. Some changes are bad while others are good. The NBA’s play-in tournament to qualify for the postseason is a positive change that should be here to stay.
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