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Play-in tournament for NBA playoffs is fairest way to conclude campaign

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The NBA regular season is likely over. It remains unknown when the league will return, but with it seeming probable there will be no NBA action until the summer, it’s very unlikely we see any more regular season games in the 2019/20 season.

Depending on Adam Silver’s priorities and how the United States deal with the coronavirus, we could be left with a shortened playoffs or no postseason at all. The prospect of having no NBA champion in 2020 isn’t something NBA fans will want to consider, but it is a real possibility at this juncture.

Outside of the box ideas are being welcomed by the league. Owners have different motivations, of course, but they all stand to benefit from more basketball being played this season to varying degrees. Those in the playoff race will be desperate to resume the regular season – an end-of-season play-in tournament might be their best chance of playing postseason basketball, however.

It would need to be applied to both conferences, with differing degrees of fairness. The Eastern Conference occupants might feel hard done by if forced into a quickfire play-in with the ninth, tenth and eleventh seeds. In the West, the situation is different, with the contest for the eight seed alive and well. That said, the Memphis Grizzlies would not be so keen to relinquish the final playoff spot, which they have held for much of the season.

The trajectory of the Grizz, though, had them under severe pressure from the Pelicans and Blazers. New Orleans and Portland might not play another game this season – if the regular season is ended as it stands, they would be hit hardest. It isn’t an issue everyone will be fussed about, but it will certainly matter to those two franchises, regardless of their near-certain first-round thumping against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.


In an unprecedented situation, the league faces many questions. Resuming the season is a long way off right now, but they have a challenge to strike a balance between revenue, entertainment and fairness. The concept of a play-in tournament has been floated previously, and Adam Silver pushed for a mid-season tournament just a few months ago. It’s an idea the commissioner is keen on, and this could be his window to introduce a knockout, March Madness-style tournament to the NBA. It, as it stands, looks like the fairest solution to these exceptional circumstances.

Sport seems almost irrelevant to many right now. Negotiations will be ongoing, though – this unexpected situation could lead to some severe long-term changes for the NBA.

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