HOW TO WATCH THE NBA PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT
The NBA regular season is done and the seeding in each conference has been settled, but it ain’t like it used to be this year. For the first time in a non-bubble season, there will be a play-in tournament involving eight teams fighting for four playoff spots, eventually hoping to become the seventh and eighth seeds in their conference. It’s a new wrinkle in the playoff picture that I’m assuming was created to include more teams and their fan bases and incentivize not tanking for draft picks. I’m not crazy about it, personally. First of all, it certainly didn’t stop 6 or 8 teams from tanking this year. I also feel like if your team can’t finish among the top 16 teams over an 82 game season then your team is not going to win a championship anyway. I also don’t love that the top twelve teams in the NBA are going to sit for almost a week waiting for this tournament to conclude. Getting three or even four days off is a nice rest/break. Sitting for 6 or 7 days is a great way to get out of rhythm.
That said, it does make for a few must-win, ‘loser goes home’ games right away and there aren’t many of those in the NBA playoffs – so that may give it a bit of a March Madness feel. If a few of the games come down to the wire and create some memorable moments, then this little experiment may stick around. Maybe I’ll even change my mind about it. Until that point I remain skeptical.
In spite of my staunch skepticism, the #7 seed games get things started on Tuesday with Cleveland traveling to Brooklyn and the T-Wolves hosting the Clippers. The Cavs looked like a lock to be among the top six in the Eastern Conference but lost 14 of their last 22 and now face a really tough task in Barclay’s Center against a team everyone thought would be among the NBA’s elite when this season began. Minnesota and L.A. have both played very well since the All-Star Break but had too much ground to make up to put themselves among the top six in the West. Fair to say they both could make tougher-than-usual first round opponents if they get past the tournament.
On Wednesday we get the #9 vs. #10 seed games as Atlanta hosts Charlotte and the Pelicans welcome the Spurs to The Big Easy. The loser of these two games is eliminated from any further postseason appearances. The Hawks are probably feeling disappointed about appearing in the play-in tournament after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals just a year ago, while Charlotte played very well in the final few weeks to qualify, winning 11 of their last 15 to keep teams like the Knicks and Wizards from having any postseason hope. I guess we should thank them for that gesture anyway.
On Friday the losing teams from Tuesday host the winning teams from Wednesday night’s games. The winners of the Friday night games become the eighth playoff seed and will face their respective conferences’ #1 seed in the first round. The winners of Tuesday night’s games advance immediately, claiming the seventh seed in their conference and facing the #2 seed in the first round.
The first round of the REAL playoffs will begin being played on Saturday. Game times and locations of those games will be settled once Tuesday’s games finish up (I think).
TUESDAY APRIL 12
#8 Cleveland @ #7 Brooklyn 7 pm TNT
#8 LA Clippers @ #7 Minnesota 9:30 pm TNT
WEDNESDAY APRIL 13
#10 Charlotte @ #9 Atlanta 7 pm ESPN
#10 San Antonio @ New Orleans 9:30 pm ESPN
FRIDAY APRIL 15
Eastern Conference #8 seed play-in game TBD ESPN
Western Conference #8 seed play-in game TBD TNT