NBA: The Time For Play-In Game Basketball Is Here

The NBA has always been known for taking ideas from other sports, putting their own spin on the idea and making it must see television. 

For example, look at the All-Star game. The idea of taking captains from each conference and allowing them to pick teams school-yard style came from the National Hockey League. With the last two seasons being a success, the NBA now has a concept that they will use going forward to create excitement among their fans. 

Now with Saturday’s play-in game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies being arguably one of the best games of the 2019-2020 season, it might be time to use Major League Baseball’s concept of the one game play-in game for the 2020-2021 season and beyond. But the NBA has to make a few tweaks to the current model in order for this to be successful going forward.


Why Should They Keep The Play-In Game?

Basketball for years has been kind of stale around the last 10 days of the regular season. You have teams resting players, not playing their stars extended minutes or teams deciding that draft position is more important.

If you watched the last week of the NBA bubble, you saw four teams leave everything on the line in an attempt to get one more chance of making the postseason. Besides the epic run of Blazers’ All-Star Damian Lillard, the play of Phoenix guard Devin Booker, Memphis guard Ja Morant and the team effort of the San Antonio Spurs gave NBA fans something to talk about each day. 

Each of those four teams (Phoenix, Portland, Memphis and San Antonio) left everything on the floor and Phoenix ended up winning all eight games and going undefeated. Sorry Memphis fans, more people wanted to see if Monty Williams’ Suns were as good as their undefeated record showed against the Portland Trail Blazers.


How Should It Work Going Forward?

The idea of making sure the play-in teams have to be within four games of the eighth and final seed in the playoffs should still be standard for triggering the play-in game in either conference. There is no reason to make a change to this. This will make more teams fight for the playoffs instead of packing it in earlier than normal. 

But we had serious problems with the standings and this idea will fix it. So hear me out here before you think that I’m completely crazy. Because of a schedule quirk that had Portland having one more game than both Memphis and Phoenix and three games on San Antonio, they had an advantage, especially in standings. It allowed a little bit more wiggle room for Portland. 

So when you saw the final standings, Portland made the eighth spot by a half of a game over both Memphis and Phoenix and one and a half games over San Antonio. San Antonio had the same number of losses as both Memphis and Phoenix but played two less games. 

Yes, next season will hopefully have everyone playing the same number of games. So this situation will be avoided but having two teams with the same record could happen again. Everyone knows head to head and the other tiebreakers should be used to figure out seeding. 

But let’s have a little bit of fun here. No one wants to see a team like Phoenix gets left out due to a tie-breaker. So let’s stir the pot. Now, if we have a team who was able to cause a play-in game, let’s give the team who got left out a chance as well. 

So in this idea, if you have two teams like Memphis and Phoenix for example, that fall within two wins of the eighth spot, it would trigger a second play-in scenario that would put the seventh place team in the conference standings into a play-in game.

Yes, Dallas you would be brought in as well. This will force teams in the sixth and seventh spots in the conferences to continue playing their starters, keep playing to win games and scoreboard watch over the final weeks of the season. 


So How Would This Work Schedule And Travel Wise?

To give eighth and potential seventh place teams an advantage, they would host all of the potential games at home. What owner wouldn’t want to have a potential of two additional home games and revenue going in their pockets? You don’t think the NBA TV partners wouldn’t want extra chances to gain viewership and ad revenue? Players would love to get extra game checks, so everyone wins. 

Having the potential games in one location would make traveling a lot easier on all teams involved, so that’s easy. Now how to fix the schedule might be a challenge but here is how it would work. Having the potential to have four play-in games is not likely but you have to plan ahead. 

So instead of ending the season on a Wednesday, you end of the season a day earlier. That way the games could start on Thursday night and the potential second game will be on Friday. The playoffs can still start on Saturday as normal, with the four games starting at noon as it has been for the last few years. 

The league would schedule the set-up matchups as normal and leave the potential top seeds with floating times and days until their matchups are set. Worst case scenario, the teams that have games on Friday would turn around and play game one of the playoffs on Sunday for television purposes. 


Why Do It This Way?

As fans of the sport, we want good basketball throughout the season and this will help bring better basketball for a full 82 games. The casual basketball fan knows Lillard but a lot of people might not have seen Morant, Jonas Valanciunas or Dillon Brooks outside of the few games that might get shown on national television throughout the season. 

The league needs to create more stars, especially players on teams that don’t get the attention teams like the Los Angeles Lakers or Los Angeles Clippers get on a daily basis. In one afternoon, Ja Morant not only became a household name but when the new schedule comes out for next season, the Grizzlies will have way more games on the big networks on the schedule. 

Not everyone is a fan of change in sports and like things the traditional way but sometimes it’s for the betterment of everyone to make a change to spice up things in the NBA. 

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