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Fred Katz: Scott Brooks says he loves the play-in tournament. Says he thinks it’s made the league more competitive and has helped with tanking: “Even if we weren’t in this position and we were at the fifth or sixth spot, I think you should try to make it as competitive as you can."
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. “Based on what we’ve seen in terms of team behavior the last few years—the competitiveness on the court and the competitiveness in the standings—we’re pleased with the early results of both the lottery change and the play-in tournament,” said Wasch.
According to Wasch, the biggest gap a team has overcome to make the playoffs, with 15 games left in a season, is four games. (It’s happened twice.) So the league is using that four-game gap as the gauge for “still in contention.” And when the league hit the 15-game mark last week, 24 teams were either firmly in the playoff field or, at worst, within four games of 10th place. Yes, league officials looked it up. And yes, they’re quite pleased with that stat—and with the rules changes that fostered it.
"I thought it was funny that Mark Cuban, who I absolutely love, pushed it," New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Not only did he vote for it, but he pushed it. And now that they’re sitting where they are, they don’t like it."
His parting shot shot at Cuban aside, Van Gundy preached the importance of adapting to the circumstances than worrying about the pros and cons of the play-in tournament format. “It doesn’t matter what I think,” Van Gundy said. “We’re trying to get in it. So what my own personal thing is on what they should or should not have done with that doesn’t even matter. I don’t think about it. We’re trying to get in it. So that’s what is important to me."
Or take the eight, nine and 10 seeds – Memphis, Golden State and San Antonio. The eight seed just has to win one play-in game and the ninth and 10th seeds has to win twice. It’s easy to see why those teams would rather end up in seventh or eighth place. “For us, it’s awesome,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “For the league, it creates a lot of excitement and competition. I know they’re studying that and they’ll figure out how that makes sense moving forward. But hopefully we give ourselves a great chance in the last 20 games to keep getting better and make a push for the playoffs.”
So Steph Curry -- what do you think about the play-in format? "I like the opportunity that's in front of us," the two-time NBA MVP told ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "We have an opportunity to make this season mean something down the stretch because of the play-in. The opportunity of peaking at the right time. I'm sure there are gonna be a lot of opinions on it, and we'll see how it plays out. But I'm with it."
Hours after Luka Doncic criticized the idea of the NBA's play-in tournament, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told ESPN that the concept is "an enormous mistake," especially due to this season's compressed schedule. "I get why the NBA is doing it," Cuban said in a series of messages to ESPN. "But if we are going to be creative because of COVID, we should go straight up 1-20 and let the bottom 4 play in. This is the year particularly to do it since the 10 games cut [from the normal 82-game schedule] were in conference.
"The worst part of this approach is that it doubles the stress of the compressed schedule. Rather than playing for a playoff spot and being able to rest players as the standings become clearer, teams have to approach every game as a playoff game to either get into or stay in the top 6 since the consequences, as Luka said, are enormous. So players are playing more games and more minutes in fewer days."
"In a regular season of 82 games where we aren't playing 30-plus games in 6 weeks, then it might have been OK," Cuban told ESPN. "But the compression of so many games into so few days makes this an enormous mistake. "If we had gone 1 to 16, with the top 12 in, it still would have been rough, but there would have been more separation between play-in and the top 12. This is a season where we have to rest high-usage players. We have no choice. And that can and will have consequences."
Count Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic among the critics of the NBA's play-in tournament concept. "I don't understand the idea of a play-in," Doncic said Monday after a 113-95 loss to the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, the Mavs' third defeat in four games. "You play 72 games to get into the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you're out of the playoffs. So I don't see the point of that."
Connor Letourneau: Steve Kerr on Draymond Green's comments about not being motivated to play in a play-in game: "Well, it motivates me. ... I understand what Draymond is saying. After so many years of being a championship contender, it is tough to just be playing to make the play-in tournament."
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green says that he is not motivated by the NBA's new play-in games, despite the fact that his team currently sits in 9th place in the Western Conference -- squarely on the fringe of the league's reformatted playoff system. "To be honest with you, I don't go into these games thinking like, 'Man, we need to win these games to get to the playoffs,'" Green said after Thursday's 116-109 loss to the Miami Heat. "I hate f---ing losing, so when I step on the floor I want to win. But I'll be 100 percent honest with you, fighting for a play-in spot does not motivate me. We're in what, [9th]? Fighting for a [play-in] spot doesn't motivate me at all."
Green, who has won three NBA championships during his nine-year career with the Warriors, added that the idea of squeezing into the postseason isn't going to motivate him any more than not wanting to lose already does. "I want to win every game I play because I hate losing," he said. "That s--- really bothers me. So that's what motivates me, not fighting for some play-in spot."
The game schedules across TNT and ESPN for the final week of the regular season (May 10-16) will be determined at a later date in order to provide the most compelling matchups to a national audience leading into the NBA Play-In Tournament and the NBA Playoffs. In the final week of the regular season, TNT will present doubleheaders Tuesday, May 11 and Thursday, May 13, and ESPN will televise doubleheaders Wednesday, May 12 and Friday, May 14. ESPN will also air a game Sunday, May 16 on the final day of the regular season. TNT will tip off its coverage of the Second Half of the season Thursday, March 11 with a doubleheader as the Brooklyn Nets host the Boston Celtics (7:30 p.m. ET) and the Golden State Warriors visit the LA Clippers (10 p.m. ET). ESPN will begin its Second Half coverage Sunday, March 14 when the New Orleans Pelicans host the Clippers (9 p.m. ET). On Monday, March 15, ESPN’s first doubleheader in the Second Half will feature the New York Knicks visiting the Nets (8 p.m. ET) and the Lakers taking on the Warriors in San Francisco (10:30 p.m. ET).
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Play-in Tournament still needs to be approved by the Board of Governors, but that is a formality, per sources: No. 7 and No. 8 seeds need to win once to stay in playoffs; No. 9 and No. 10 seeds need to win twice to move up into field. Tentative dates of event: May 17-21.
NBA and NBPA talks continue to include the likelihood of a play-in tournament for both the Eastern and Western Conference playoffs, a mechanism designed to incentivize more teams to aggressively pursue the late season competitively -- and an avenue for the league, players and television partners to create more lucrative revenue streams, sources said.
The play-in tournament proposal has coalesced around the structure ESPN first reported was gaining traction in early 2018: a four-team tournament among the Nos. 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds for the final two playoff spots in each conference. The tournament would begin with No. 7 hosting No. 8, and the winner locking into the No. 7 spot. Meanwhile, No. 9 would face No. 10, with the winner advancing to play the loser of the 7-versus-8 matchup for the No. 8 seed, sources have told ESPN.
To date, the league's 7-10 proposal has not been tweaked to include any standings trigger, sources told ESPN. The play-in tournament is meant to be a money-generating media property. Reducing the number of teams from four to three would reduce the number of games, and thus the overall revenue generated by the tournament, sources said.
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