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Has the Play-In Tournament Been a Net Positive for the NBA?

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The NBA Play-In Tournament pros and cons have been long debated. It’s been years since the league adopted this format, and while some people seem to like it, some aren’t that impressed by what we’ve seen thus far.

The Play-In Tournament explained is, in simple words, an opportunity for two additional teams to make the playoffs, expanding the potential postseason pool all the way to the No. 10 spot. That also gave LeBron James, one of the greatest small forwards in NBA history, more opportunities to make the playoffs despite his team’s struggles.

Needless to say, this has been quite controversial. Some fans seem to like it, but others don’t. Even so, to really dig deep into the NBA Play-In Tournament pros and cons, we have to talk about context and the NBA is a business first and foremost.

Is The Play-In Tournament Good For The League?

On the one hand, it’s always nice to have some of the best teams in the league going at it in a win-or-go-home situation. That’s great for the ratings, especially considering the fact that some of the best players in the game are aging.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry might not have many more opportunities to make the playoffs unless their rosters improve significantly, but having the Play-In gives them a chance, and the fans always want to watch them going toe-to-toe.


On the other hand, this is also watering the league down even further. Teams can relax knowing they have a bigger margin for error, as just four teams from each conference won’t have an opportunity to make it to the postseason, and that leaves the door open for mediocre teams to sneak in.

Needless to say, everybody loves underdog and Cinderella stories, and this paves the way for not-so-good teams to get hot when it matters the most, and go on a deep postseason run and who knows, perhaps even win an NBA Championship.

Truth be told, it’s hard to think of the NBA putting this idea together if it wasn’t for the aging superstars of the game. With all due respect to the Eastern Conference, no one seems to be that high on those Play-In Tournament games because those teams aren’t good at all.

A game between the Atlanta Hawks and, say, this version of the Chicago Bulls just doesn’t feel exciting or even worth watching for most fans, but that’s not the case if you have the likes of Anthony Davis going at it with, say, Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns.

Is There An Alternative?

Perhaps the only way to fix this is to tweak the playoff seeding a little. For years, fans have talked about how cool it would be to have the best teams seeded by record and not by conference, and it would certainly enhance the competitive spirit of the league.


The best 16 teams should have the opportunity to pursue an NBA championship. We’ve seen multiple Western Conference teams miss the playoffs despite having a positive record, sometimes even having the very same record than other teams that made the playoffs, or even better than some Eastern Conference teams.

The league continuously rewards mediocrity and losing. From the NBA Draft lottery all the way to the Play-In Tournament and now even the In-Season Tournament, it seems like they’re not encouraging a desire to pursue what actually matters, which is an NBA championship and the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Even so, the ratings continue to go up, and so does the revenue, so the league has little-to-no incentive to fix the kind of issues that have led the older audience to turn their attention somewhere else.

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