Some people around the league like Mark Cuban and LeBron James have voiced issues with the league’s new play-in tournament within the last few weeks. Others have voiced their excitement and are eager to see the extra games and competition. Why are their concerns being voiced now? And what effect will the play-in have on the rest of the season and future of the league?
For anyone who doesn’t know or understand the play-in tournament, here are the simplified rules; In a one-game matchup, the seventh-place team will face the eighth-place team. The winner of that game will receive the No. 7 playoff seed. In a one-game matchup, the ninth-place team will face the tenth-place team. There are two points of view; the players and the fans. From the player’s point of view, they’ve played 72 hard-fought games with countless back-to-backs crammed into a small period of time, and now the league is making seeding a priority for teams which means teams can’t rest their stars prior to the playoffs. Teams like the Celtics and Lakers have fought against injuries and health and safety protocols all season and to risk having another injury in a game that wouldn’t usually be happening would be devastating. The impact of the play-in tournament can be felt throughout the league. The pressure is also on the 5 and 6-seeds to stay above the cut, not just the teams currently holding the 7 and 8 seeds. Even the top two seeds in each conference are realizing that because of the tournament, they will be the last to learn who their first-round opponents are. From the fan’s perspective, this much competition prior to the playoffs is amazing. In a typical season, teams usually start to slow down in preparation for the playoffs, this year is the opposite, I’ve never seen higher completion this late into the year. For example, teams like the Wizards, Pacers, and Spurs, are fighting for a play-in spot when in most seasons they would be tanking for a better pick at this point in the year.
This past season might not be the best year to throw in a new play-in tournament because of all the obstacles this season has already faced. The number of games in a small period of time, health and safety protocols, and the amount of time between this and last season made adding a new addition to the season the worst-case scenario. But, Steph Curry vs LeBron James prior to the playoffs in a playoff atmosphere is must-see television.
On Tuesday night, the first two games of the Play-In Tournament happened and they did not disappoint. Typically I don’t root against another team unless they’re playing the Celtics, but I did not want the Pacers to beat the Hornets. I personally think it would be more fun to watch the Charlotte Hornets long term, I have nothing but respect for the Pacers organization and fans. The Pacers proved me wrong, I enjoyed watching them dominate and the Hornets surprised most fans and played poorly. Sabonis didn’t have an amazing game but the supporting cast showed up and played better than the Hornets. The main event of the night was the Wizards vs Celtics and it didn’t disappoint. Jayson Tatum must’ve heard the predictions for the Wizards to win because he dropped 50 points vs his childhood friend Bradley Beal. I’ll admit that Bradley Beal was not healthy and three minutes in he was already struggling to play. In previous games vs Boston, Bradley Beal was the primary defender on Tatum, Jayson is too fast for Hachimura and too big for Beal, and with his injury Tatum took advantage. Robert Williams III and Marcus Smart went down but Jayson put Boston on his back and carried them to a big win vs the Wizards
Everyone knew that Lakers vs Warriors was going to be good, but no one knew it would come down to a game-winner to end the game. The Warriors came to play but LeBron hit the best shot in Play-In history! The Warriors had no business competing in this game when you compare talent but they kept up and almost dethroned the defending champions. Warrior fans should be proud that they were competing and I would take the Warriors versus Memphis because they recently beat them. The Warriors don’t matchup versus the Lakers when it comes to talent but they had this game in the 1st half. Stephen Curry is a master on the offensive side of the ball and his ability to create his own shots. ESPN did a great job of showing why Curry is as dominant as he is in the replays, he won’t stop moving without the ball. One minute he’s going to shoot and three and before you know it he’s cutting to the basket for an easy layup. Andrew Wiggins had a great game defensively and offensively. He showcased some great defense on LeBron, including a great block early in the game. Wiggins is turning into a high-quality third option and most teams would love to have him if he can play defense as he did vs LeBron. People often discredit Draymond Green because of what they see on his stats, but he is still the great defender he was in 2015. Draymond Green is the defensive system for the Warriors, he is everywhere on the court. He’s not averaging double-digit points but he’s still a floor general and a dog on the defensive end. Kent Bazemore also had a big impact on the game and hit some big threes when they needed them.
Let’s move on to the winners of the game, the Lakers. Kentavoius Caldwell-Pope was the guy who kept the Lakers in the game when it seemed the Warriors couldn’t be stopped. Someone else who deserves credit is Wesley Mathews, he hit some big threes and played great defense. LeBron seems to always slowly adjust to what another is playing like in a seven-game series and sometimes loses the first game, but since this is a one-game series he did it in the first half. He realizes what their scheme is and destroys it once he figures it out. LeBron came out in the 3rd quarter and looked like Patrick Mahomes throwing good pass after good pass. The biggest shot of the game was such a broken play, LeBron “Steph Curry’d” Steph Curry and pulled up from deep to give the Lakers a 3-point lead which would eventually be the game-winning shot. This is why the NBA fans wanted the play-in because we got to see two of the best players of our generation battle each other for a playoff spot when it matters the most and the game came down to the last possession.