Thursday was a great day for the NBA.
Portland held on in the final seconds to secure its spot in the weekend’s play-in series for the final playoff berth in the West. The final buzzer prompted a look of exhausted relief from Damian Lillard, who had just completed one of the most dominant three-game scoring runs in league history.
The win staved off elimination for the Trail Blazers. It knocked the Phoenix Suns into the NBA lottery. And it bumped the Memphis Grizzlies to the No. 9 line, where they’ll now have to win consecutive games over Portland to make the playoffs.
Silver: ‘Something we’d like to see stay’
It was great entertainment. Adam Silver would like to replicate it moving forward.
The NBA commissioner has hinted in the past that the play-in series adopted for the 2020 COVID-19 bubble could become a permanent fixture. He expressed that desire in no uncertain terms in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix published Friday.
“I do see this as something we would embrace going forward,” Silver said. “As you know I’ve been talking about it for a while. We saw this as an opportunity to institute a form of it. I’m not sure if this would be the exact format going forward. But this is something we’d like to see stay.”
It’s fun, but is it fair?
The play-in series will start Saturday. If Portland beats Memphis, it advances to face the Los Angeles Lakers as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. If Memphis wins, the teams will play a winner-take-all game Sunday for the right to face the Lakers.
It’s a fine way to settle the last playoff spot in a pandemic-shortened season that saw the Blazers finish a half-game ahead of Grizzlies.
There’s no doubt that it’s the most exciting format. But is it the right way to settle the playoffs when every team plays 82 games?
Sounds like MLB wild card
The format this season called for a play-in series if the ninth-place team finished within four games of the eighth-place team. If after a full season a team finishes four games ahead of the team behind it in the standings, should its spot in the playoffs be put at risk?
Silver suggested that the format is flexible. Say that four-game requirement was reduced to two — or one, even. Is a play-in series fair then?
It would mimic MLB’s wild-card format that sees two teams square off in one game for the right to face the top seed in their league’s playoffs. It makes for exciting baseball. It also reeks of gimmickry and manufactured drama that’s not fair to the team that’s ahead in the standings after 162 games.
Which is territory the NBA is now considering on a permanent basis.
But games and leagues constantly evolve. Those that don’t progress get left behind.
Is the excitement of a play-in series in the NBA worth the risk to the integrity of the regular season?
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