The NBA play-in tournament is just days away. The controversial addition to the playoff format will determine the final two teams to make the playoffs, with 4 teams competing for the final spots.
The teams with the seventh-highest and eighth-highest winning percentages will play two games and have to win one to earn a playoff spot, while the teams with the ninth-highest and tenth-highest winning percentages have to win both of the two games to advance. The play-in tournament limits the number of games played, leading to more competitive basketball, as each of the four teams’ playoff chances are reliant on one to two games.
Like anything, the play-in tournament has received both support and criticism. One of the more critical remarks came from Lakers star Lebron James who told reporters after the Lakers’ 121-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors that the creator of the play-in tournament “needs to be fired.” Likewise, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic stated that he does not “understand the idea of a play-in.” The reasoning behind Doncic and James’ dislike for the play-in tournament is precisely why it will be successful. The play-in tournament creates pressure as Doncic relayed, “you play 72 games to get into the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you’re out.”
That same pressure has led to increased ratings for the NBA. According to NBA executive Evan Wasch, the NBA’s national television ratings have gone up by 25% in both April and March.
Along with the positive financial gain, the play-in tournament has led to more meaningful end-of-season basketball. In preceding years, nearly every legitimate title contender was a lock to make the playoffs in March. With the latest modifications to the format, teams must now strive to win every game. The top six spots are more sought-after than the 7-8 spots, and those spots are more sought-after than the 9-10 spots. If a team loses numerous end-of-season games, they could fall in the standings.
James made the critical comment about the play-in tournament after the loss to the Raptors because the loss increased the likelihood of the Lakers’ falling in the standings. Subsequently, several games after the loss to the Raptors, the Lakers lost to the Trail Blazers, moving them from the 6th seed to the 7th. In previous years, end-of-season losses would not hold as much weight, but now, their playoff chances are reliant on those same games.
Now that end-of-season games are more meaningful, many teams can no longer rest their star players in preparation for the playoffs. Instead, those players must now continue playing through the final games of the season to secure a playoff spot for their team.
By and large, the play-in tournament has changed the course of the regular season and is sure to change the playoffs. The increase in ratings showcases that these changes are popular among fans, even if some prominent players may disagree. Controversial or not, the alteration to the postseason format has already shown to be successful. The play-in tournament has yet to start and is already here to stay.