The Most Intriguing Storyline of the NBA Restart
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been very candid in his intentions to improve the product the league puts out. With ratings down across the league prior to the season’s suspension, along with major sponsorships lost in China at the start of the season, the NBA is trying to innovate rapidly.
Changes to All-Star Weekend, reforming the draft lottery to prevent tanking, and prospects of an in-season tournament have been discussed. The race towards the eighth-seed in the Western Conference is by far, one of the most intriguing experiments the NBA is trying out this season.
The idea is somewhat similar to the wild-card games that happen in Baseball. Essentially, any team that is the current ninth-seed, and is also within four games of the current eighth-seed can force a ‘play-in tournament’ to determine who will qualify for the NBA postseason. The play-in tournament between the eighth and ninth-seed would consist of one or two games, depending on who wins the first. If the eighth-seed wins the first game, they will proceed into the postseason, whereas if the ninth-seed wins the first game, the two teams play a second, winner-take-all game to decide who will advance.
Currently, the Portland Trailblazers (ninth), New Orleans Pelicans (tenth), Sacramento Kings (eleventh), and the San Antonio Spurs (twelfth), are the teams within four games of the eighth-seed Memphis Grizzlies. Whichever team finishes with the ninth spot and is still within four games of the eighth spot after the eight seeding games can force the play-in tournament.
In the Eastern Conference, it is more likely that a play-in tournament will not happen as key contributors (Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans) on the ninth-seeded Washington Wizards opted out of playing in the Disney Bubble.
Why the Play-in Tournament brings new life to the Playoffs
One of the major (pun intended) joys of watching the MLB postseason is the wild-card games which are also a “winner advances to the postseason” game. From an athletes’ perspective, these types of games are extremely high intensity, with some of the highest stakes involved that aren’t in a playoff series or championship game. From a viewership perspective, spectators can expect a game where every player brings their A-game.
The tournament also allows young teams that usually would struggle to get to the playoffs to have a chance at qualifying. This year’s prospect of having Zion Williamson in a playoff series against LeBron James is certainly on the mind of many NBA fans, and would be an exciting series to watch.
Teams that have struggled with injuries would also benefit from having a play-in tournament. The Portland Trailblazers in particular have missed multiple players due to injury.
Jusuf Nurkić and Zach Collins were out for extended parts of the season, and the Blazers have stayed afloat largely thanks to the prolific play of Damian Lillard. Now with a clean bill of health, the Blazers also have a chance to advance to the playoffs.
Regardless of what transpires over the next couple weeks, the race for the eighth-seed has never been more intriguing. A playoff spot that usually is overlooked and viewed as a throw-in position now has new life, and the stakes have never been higher.