NBA Playoff Play-in games, how do they work?


James Porter-Delgardo, Sports

This year, the whole sports world has been out of whack. Due to Covid, games have had to be postponed or canceled, fans haven’t been allowed to games, but as covid clears up, those restrictions clear up. New ideas are introduced to different sports all the time; the NFL is getting a 17th regular-season game, the UEFA Champions League is adding four new teams to their 32 team event. 

Also, the NBA is changing its playoff format. Instead of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th seed from the western and eastern conference battling it out for the finals trophy. It will be the 1st – 6th seed in the playoffs, while the 7th to 10th seed plays for a spot in the playoffs. Like in the ‘normal playoff setup’ where the 1st seed is playing the 8th, and the second seed is playing the 7th, the winners of the play-in games will go on to face the 1st and second seed. 

The teams going into the play-in games are, from the Eastern Conference: 9th seed Indiana vs. 10th seed Hornets, and 7th seed Boston vs. 8th seed Washington. In the Western Conference, 9th seed Memphis vs. 10th seed San Antonio, and 8th seed Golden State vs. 7th seed Los Angeles Lakers.

The inner workings of these play-in games are even more unusual. The winner of the 10th vs. 9th seed game will play the loser of the 7th vs. 8th seed game in a chance to face the first seed. At the same time, the winner of the 7th and 8th seed game will flat out play the 2nd seed. 

There must be an essence of strategy to winning or losing the play-in games. For example, in the eastern conference, the 2nd seed team is the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets are arguably the best team in the NBA and arguably one of the best teams all-time on paper. From a ‘wanting-to-make-a-deep-playoff-run’ standpoint, maybe the 8th or 7th seed would purposely LOSE the first round of the play-in to get a better draft pick, THEN play the 10th or the 9th to face the 1st seeded 76ers. 

Now one might ask, why the hell would you rather face the 1st seed team over the 2nd seed team? Because if you meet the 2nd seed, you face the Brooklyn Nets. In this instance, your team would face the best team in the NBA right now. The Nets would have three superstars on the starting floor, or even worse, the coaches could rotate the superstars on and off the bench one after the other to absolutely destroy teams. No team in the NBA has a legit chance of beating Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant in a seven-game series other than a fully healthy Lebron James and Anthony Davis Lakers team. 

A team going against Philadelphia wouldn’t have an easier time than facing Brooklyn per se, but that team in the play-ins has a better chance of winning against Philadelphia than it does Brooklyn. 

It is most likely that the Nets – Lakers matchup will happen come the NBA Finals, but almost every team that is not in the play-in games is looking solid and coming off win streaks. Fans are allowed back in stadiums, and it is the Playoffs; anything could happen.