We all know why we are here. Lord Silver has given us a new form of complete anarchy, and whether we like it or not, the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament is happening. Now, I'll be the first to admit...I hated this idea. I didn't get the point of basically "punishing" a team for finishing as the 7 seed. Aren't the 7th and 8th seeds fighting for their lives at the end of the NBA season regardless? Why do we need to create a mini-tournament that can now lead to them not making a playoff series at all? Imagine if the "We Believe" Golden State Warriors didn't make the playoffs because of a play-in game. We would have never gotten to witness one of the most historic upsets in NBA Playoff history. The major problem I had with this new installment was the timing. This season has gotten dark in a hurry, mainly due to the numerous amounts of injuries that have piled up due to the condensed season. So at first, I had plenty of reasons why I flat out thought this was a bad idea for the NBA. But then...things got interesting.
WHAT IS THE FORMAT?
Want to know one word that describes why NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted to do this play-in tournament? Anarchy. Silver knew exactly what was going to happen down the stretch. It's almost become a tradition for most playoff teams to "coast" through the final weeks of the regular season, as they prepare for the grind of the NBA Playoffs. Silver saw an opportunity to change that. Now, teams are playing meaningful games till the very end. Some, just actively making sure that they avoid having to play potential "Game 7s" in this new format. It's created a serious amount of new drama to the regular season, and you can bet that the ratings are going to be climbing even with some of the final regular season matchups. If you're still trying to figure out what the heck the format is for this play-in tournament then don't worry...I got you covered. So let's break it down.
The first game will feature the 7th seed vs the 8th seed. Pretty simple with that game, win and you're the 7 seed. The other game is pretty similar as well. The 9th seed will face the 10th seed, with the loser being eliminated. Okay, got all that so far? 7 vs 8 and 9 vs 10. Now, this is where it can get a bit weird but I'll try to make it as simple as possible for you. The loser of the 7 vs 8 game will face the winner vs the 9 vs 10 game. The winner between those two teams will be crowned the 8th seed. So basically the 7th and 8th seeds in the standings have a two-game elimination in order to get into the playoffs. The 9th and 10th seeds have to win two games in order to get in. If we want to take a specific example, let's take a look at the Eastern Conference, which looks to be locked up in terms of specific seeding. As of now, the order goes as follows: Boston (7th), Charlotte (8th), Indiana (9th), and Washington (10th). The only potential movement, unless there's a surprise, would involve the Pacers and Wizards swapping seeds as Indiana only leads Washington by 1 game for 9th seed. Let's say for example that Boston defeats Charlotte in the 7 vs 8 game. Boston would earn the 7th seed in the Playoffs. Then in the other matchup, let's say that the Wizards beat the Pacers. Indiana would then be eliminated, and it would set up a potential "Game 7" between Washington and Charlotte, with the winner earning the final 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
THIS COULD GET CHAOTIC
Allow me a moment to play devil's advocate here. So let's just take a second to explore some potential scenarios of pure madness for this play-in tournament. We don't need to sugar coat it, all eyes will be on the Western Conference with this new format. The Los Angeles Lakers are going to be the storyline that everyone is going to be paying close attention to. Obviously, with the condensed schedule, the Lakers have had their fair share of bad luck this year when it came to some notable injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Because of those nagging injuries, the Lakers fell all the way to the 7th seed, making them one of the most interesting teams to monitor in this play-in tournament. It's expected that Lebron will return tomorrow to action against the Houston Rockets, so hopefully, the Lakers franchise player gets some rust off just in time to take care of business in this play-in game.
Unfortunately for Lakers fans, there's a serious wildcard standing in the way. Yes, you all know where I'm going with this. As it stands right now, the Los Angeles Lakers would face the Golden State Warriors in the 7 vs 8 game. Obviously, if the Lakers play the way that they are fully capable of, this team should take care of business no questions asked. But, there's someone on the other side that could be one of the most dangerous threats to the Lakers. Warriors star Steph Curry has been on the warpath during the second half of the season. In fact, before tonight's game, Steph Curry had been averaging 35.0 PPG since the All-Star break. So let's say that the Lakers run into Curry on a night where the basket looks like it's 20 feet wide (which has happened a lot lately). Then the Lakers would have to go up in a potential "Game 7" against the winner of the San Antonio Spurs vs Memphis Grizzlies. Sure, those are both teams that the Lakers should handle...but don't think those teams wouldn't love the opportunity to eliminate the defending champions from the Playoffs. But let's say for a second that the Lakers win that second game. Their prize? Having to travel to Utah to face the Jazz, who have been one of the most impressive teams in the league throughout the 2020-21 season. The chips are going to be stacked against the Lakers any way you look at it, but they still have that Lebron James guy...and if he's healthy, he will be ready to roll no matter who is on the other side of the floor.
The same thing could happen on the other side of the "bracket." After a season with serious injuries, including the recent Jaylen Brown season-ending injury, the Boston Celtics could find themselves in some trouble if they lose their opening game to the Charlotte Hornets. Boston would then have to go up against the winner of the Indiana vs Washington game, including a Wizards team that no one wants to face right now. Of course, Boston could win its first game against Charlotte, and win the luxurious reward of facing the Brooklyn Nets in the first round shorthanded. So there's always that...
PREDICTION...GET USED TO THIS
Some of you won't like to hear this, and I'm shaking my head in disbelief as I write this, but this play-in tournament isn't going to go anywhere. Expect this to be a normal thing for the foreseeable future. There were some reports leaking over the last month that stated that Adam Silver is committing to the play-in tournament for the long haul. While I wasn't a fan of the situation, it's going to make a lot of sense. There's added drama to the conclusion of each season now. Admit it, you're paying attention to each final game more than you ever have. Imagine if all of these final teams were closer in the standings and it came down to the final game of the year. It would be electric television for all fan bases. Not only that but imagine the ratings the NBA is going to get with these play-in games. The Bubble even seemed like a questionable idea at first, and then it turned out to be glorious and we all couldn't take our eyes off the television on a daily basis. Now just imagine the idea of teams facing Game 7 like consequences before they even officially get into the playoffs. Silver has continued to open up the door of adding new wrinkles to the suspense of the NBA season and this looks to be his latest addition. Time will tell if it's a great decision for the long haul, but as the tournament inches closer...so does the suspense, and that's only going to create more legendary moments for fans to remember.