of April 5, the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from playoff contention, finalizing the teams participating in the 2021-2022 postseason. These last few days of the season, we will likely see teams resting their stars and starters in preparation as now, victories only help to decide seeding. The seven through ten seeds will play in the play-in tournament beginning April 12.
The play-in was introduced in the 2020-2021 season to draw more viewership and create more diversity. The trial run last season was a success as we saw the eighth-seeded Warriors lose two consecutive games in the play-in, sacrificing their playoff spot in what would’ve been an automatic playoff berth in prior years.
The play-in tournament format is as follows: the No. 7 seed and No. 8 seed play each other in each conference, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs and advancing to play the No. 2 seed. The No. 9 seed and the No. 10 seed also face-off and the loser of this game is eliminated. The winner of the 9-10 game advances to face the loser of the 7-8, with the victor claiming the No. 8 seed in the playoffs advancing to play the No. 1 seed and the loser going home.
This season we have been spoiled with a league in which any team could beat anyone on any given night creating standings separated by minuscule numbers. As such, teams such as the Brooklyn Nets have had their fair share of ups and downs having at one point claimed the top seed in the Eastern Conference but are now forced to participate in the play-in tournament since an 11-game losing streak dropped them all the way down to the 10-seed and ultimately now the 8-seed.
This competitiveness has presented us with a play-in tournament consisting of overperforming young teams and underperforming superstar-stacked teams.
The Eastern Conference as of April 7 consists of the Cavaliers at 7, Nets at 8, Hawks at 9, and Hornets at 10. Both the Cavaliers and Hornets are budding teams of the future with lots of potential but don’t appear to be a threat this season. The Hawks had a massive drop-off coming off a Conference Finals appearance last season and the Nets had championship expectations but through Kyrie Irving’s inability to play and ever-lingering injuries now have improbable odds to win the chip.
The Cavaliers and Hornets are some of the most exciting teams in the league today but don’t have the necessary tools yet to threaten the No. 1 Heat or the No. 2 seed whether it ends up being the Celtics, Bucks or 76ers. The Nets and Hawks could be competitive if they can turn back the clock to their successful times but flipping that switch could prove difficult.
In the Western Conference, the Timberwolves are the 7 with the Clippers at 8, the Pelicans at 9, and the Spurs at 10. The Clippers were missing Kawhi Leonard for the entirety of their season with Paul George going down after 33 games so their presence in the play-in is impressive. The Timberwolves are finally getting results from their young talent with Towns, Edwards, and Russell giving them their first play-off berth since Jimmy Butler left town.
The Pelicans and Spurs are amid major rebuilds with the Pelicans currently having a more promising future with their CJ McCollum trade at the deadline and Zion Williamson’s eventual return. That being said, none of these teams present a real threat to the No. 1 seeded Suns and with Paul George’s return, the Clippers or the Timberwolves could give the No. 2 seeded Grizzlies a run for their money but ultimately none of these teams have high odds at making a deep playoff run.
Which brings me to my title statement on the play-in tournament, it’s all for entertainment. These games are exciting as they are must-win games with high stakes. What hasn’t shown itself yet is the Cinderella capability that makes March Madness so special. Lower seeds in the NBA still rarely triumph over higher ones. The NBA becomes a bigger and better business with an exciting three-day tournament that draws viewers due to the star power that has been included these first two years but in terms of team success, play-in means first-round exit.
Categories: Pro Sports, Sports
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