Slowly however certainly, skilled sports are starting to appear to be they did earlier than the pandemic upended them. In the spring of 2021, we’re seeing (hopefully) the final vestiges of schedules and video games made bizarre by COVID-19. This 12 months’s NBA Playoffs look totally different due to the pandemic, certain, but in addition as a result of the league is making an attempt a brand new format: Eight groups will compete a play-in event to determine which ones will transfer on to the precise playoffs.
Here’s a primer on what the NBA playoffs will appear to be in 2021.
What is the NBA playoffs’ play-in event?
Ordinarily, the format of the NBA playoffs is straightforward sufficient. The groups with the eight finest data in every convention make it, with No. 1 enjoying No. 8, No. 2 enjoying No. 7, and so forth. (The league reserves a few greater seeds for division winners, however that doesn’t often have an effect on who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.)
This 12 months, the NBA is ditching that easy construction. Instead, the groups on the sting of the playoff race will play a mini-tournament that precedes the precise NBA playoffs.
When is that this occurring?
The play-in occasion begins on Tuesday, May 18 and ends on Friday, May 21. It consists of six video games.
How will the play-in event work?
The groups that end seventh, eighth, ninth, and Tenth within the Eastern and Western Conference standings will every have a crack at making the common eight-team playoff subject. But the street is significantly simpler for the groups seeded seventh and eighth, who’d usually get in anyway.
In each conferences, the No. 7 group will host the No. 8 group. Whoever wins that sport advances to the “regular” playoffs. Whoever loses that sport performs the winner of the sport between the No. 9 group and No. 10 group, and whoever wins that sport additionally strikes on.
The impact is that groups seeded seventh and eighth get two possibilities to win one sport and be part of the playoff subject, whereas groups seeded ninth and Tenth should win two in a row to enter the postseason.
In the Eastern Conference, the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics will host the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards, who closed the 12 months on a 17–6 run to assert their spot. The ninth-seeded Indiana Pacers will play the Tenth-seeded Charlotte Hornets.
In the Western Conference, the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers will face the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors, whereas the ninth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies will host the Tenth-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
The first set of Eastern Conference video games will happen at 6:30 and 9 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday, each on TNT. The Western video games begin at 7:30 and 10 p.m. (EDT) on Wednesday on ESPN.
Will these play-in video games be any good?
Normally, you wouldn’t assume so. These are the sorts of groups that ought to get bounced from the playoffs shortly. Even so, these video games all have excessive stakes, and it’s seemingly a number of of them will change into entertaining. One matchup needs to be notably enjoyable to look at: Defending champion Lakers, led by LeBron James, will face Steph Curry and the Warriors after Curry wrapped up one of many most astonishing seasons ever.
Why is the NBA doing this play-in as a substitute of sticking with its customary format?
Just a few causes, although the NBA hasn’t been express about all of them.
For one factor, the league has been looking for years for methods to make the common season matter extra. The NBA, pretty or not, has cultivated a repute as a league the place the intense motion doesn’t begin till the playoffs. Teams bolster this view once they make the (comprehensible) choice to relaxation star gamers throughout common season video games with the intention to preserve them recent for the lengthy haul (i.e. the playoffs).
The play-in adjustments that dynamic. It’s now extraordinarily invaluable to be the No. 6 seed as a substitute of the No. 7, as an example, as a result of the No. 6 seed is assured a complete playoff sequence whereas the No. 7 isn’t. The league likes that type of factor as a result of it retains the stakes of standard season video games excessive and, theoretically no less than, retains followers extra .
Money is another excuse. The play-in event creates a handful of further nationally televised video games. That’s extra stock, and thus extra cash, for the NBA and its TV companions. The event is sponsored by State Farm; that’s additionally a number of extra bucks for the league. The indisputable fact that considered one of these video games wound up being Lakers vs. Warriors will thrill the league much more as a result of each groups are large tv attracts and may bump the rankings.
Is this a good suggestion?
That relies on who you ask. If you’re a fan who merely enjoys watching basketball and desires there to be extra of it, then sure. If you’re an NBA group that finishes ninth or Tenth in your convention (otherwise you’re a fan of a type of groups), then it’s nice for you, too. Your season will final a bit of longer.
If you’re a participant, although, the play-in isn’t essentially so nice. This 12 months’s 72-game season already had a condensed schedule, which means extra stress on the athletes’ our bodies in a shorter time frame than regular. Now the league is including much more video games earlier than the playoffs.
LeBron James recently expressed his distaste for the play-in system, saying that whoever created it “needs to be fired.” (Even again in 2018, when the league was reportedly contemplating the thought, James called it “wack.”) Yet it’s not solely clear how widespread that feeling is among the many remainder of the league’s labor base.
Who’s going to win the NBA Finals?
That’s nonetheless unclear, in fact. This looks like an particularly wide-open 12 months, and no less than six or seven groups have an inexpensive shot at pulling it off. The groups beneath are the favorites, as predicted by FiveThirtyEight’s projection model.
The Brooklyn Nets could be the favourite if their core of star gamers (Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving) stay wholesome. But it’d be foolish to depend out the Lakers, who gained all of it final 12 months and nonetheless have each LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the roster.
The Utah Jazz are wonderful, with each a top-five offense and protection as measured by points per 100 possessions. The Philadelphia 76ers have one of many league’s finest, most versatile large males in Joel Embiid, plus all of the athleticism and protection they’d want in Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris. The Los Angeles Clippers, who constructed their roster round two of the league’s finest wing gamers in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, have emerged as one of the best three-point capturing group within the league.
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