Sports are rooted in tradition. They have always been.
These games have been around for decades — some for centuries. And, throughout their time in existence, there have been certain norms and mores that come with them.
But, sometimes, those traditions don’t bring the best out in the sports that we love. Sometimes it’s good to just shake things up. It’s good to make something a little different.
That’s what the NBA has done with their new play-in scenario for the 8th seed in each conference — they’ve made things a little more interesting.
In case you forgot, here’s a quick explainer on how it works. The 9th seed team must be within 4 games of the 8th seed to trigger a play-in scenario for the spot.
Then, that 9th seed must beat the 8th seed twice in a two game series to move into the 8th slot and move on in the playoffs. If they lose once, they’re done.
Over this two week stretch in the NBA’s return, we’ve seen the Trail Blazers, Suns and Spurs all play exceptional basketball to try and move into that spot. It’s been frantic, but also an absolute joy to watch. And we’re going to get some incredible matchups to go with it.
And it’s also exactly why the NBA needs to keep this going for years to come. Let me explain.
It gives us an actual finish to the race for the 8th seed
We’ve seen so many anticlimactic finishes in the race for the 8th seed over the years.
Normally it just ends with one team either losing and mathematically being eliminated or some silly tiebreaker scenario that we all have to spend 15 minutes looking up and doing the math on.
Instead of everyone doing all of that and scoreboard watching during the final game of the season, they just get to play a couple of games against one another and determine who goes to the postseason.
This is so much simpler and so much more fun.
It lessens the incentive to tank
Yes, teams are always going to tank when they’re out of playoff position. That’s the incentive that the NBA’s draft system inherently gives to teams — especially the really bad ones.
The worse you are, the better chance you have of getting a star when the season ends. That’s just how it works. The NBA absolutely hates tanking. How do you get rid of it? Give bad teams something to play for.
That’s what the play-in scenario is — especially for Western Conference teams that would probably be good if they were in the East.
For example, the Suns could’ve tanked their bubble stint away. They were in prime position to move up in the draft lottery, but they were just close enough to the Grizzlies at 8th to make a legitimate run for the 9th seed and trigger the play-in.
Next thing you know, the Devin Booker is hitting shots like this.
Oh, and this.
And now the Suns — winners of seven straight games — are in prime position to trigger a play-in scenario. Without this, they’re playing for nothing.
Finally, it just gives us great basketball
And isn’t that the whole point of this thing? Over the last few weeks, the stars playing for a chance to get the 8th seed have given us so many big moments.
Devin Booker just keeps hitting big shot after big shot. Rudy Gay has come to life for the Spurs. DeMar DeRozan looks like he’s in Toronto again.
Oh, did I mention that Damian Lillard probably earned himself the Bubble MVP off this performance alone?
And the fans have been on the edge of their seats to watch it all. All because of the play-in scenario. Thank the Basketball Gods.
Yes, there are some flaws in this system. The Eastern Conference has given us just about nothing with the Wizards. And the West, generally speaking, is always closer than the East.
And, yes, maybe 4 games is too wide of a range. Maybe it should be closer. But all the league has to do here is make a few tweaks to this new system and keep it moving.
Awful coronavirus circumstances aside, the NBA has found itself a gem. And it would be a total shame to let it fall by the wayside.
Keep the good times rolling, NBA.