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THE PLAY-IN IS HERE TO STAY

What’s popping on Air-Ball.com

@TheWillBaldwin

Call me a basketball revolutionist, an anti-purist, a hoops progressive or whatever else you want but, I adore the play-in. 

At first, I won’t lie, I was skeptical. In a league where it already kind of felt like too many teams made the playoffs, adding more to the mix seemed unnecessary to me.

However, watching it play out has completely changed my mind.

Most notably, way more games matter more now. Sure, maybe they won’t impact the championship this season but as someone who is first and foremost a fan of being entertained by basketball, how is more meaningful games a bad thing? 

“But Will, it makes the 72 games irrelevant if you finish in 7th or 8th and lose a couple of games.”

That argument is categorically false as the games matter more now. Never has finishing sixth meant more, meaning in fact for those teams who finish 7th or 8th in particular, the 72 games means significantly more. 

All of a sudden, the fact Dallas can’t beat Sacramento goes from a funny regular season subplot to a real storyline with all the games they’ve sacrificed that could’ve put them higher. And let’s be honest, you know what the 7th and 8th teams could do to make the play-in better?

WIN MORE REGULAR SEASON GAMES.

It’s not like the one seed has to win a single-elimination game to make the playoffs, it’s teams that were basically irrelevant in the playoffs anyway. Since the playoffs expanded for the 1983-84 season, those seeds have won a combined 10 first-round series and only two ever have advanced beyond the second round. 

All the play-in does is add more drama, intrigue and action to a season that let’s be honest, drags a lot by the middle and end. How is that a bad thing?

So the 7th and 8th seeds life is a little harder, how about they either win more regular-season games or just don’t lose two in a row during the play-in. It’s not even a traditional single-elimination knockout, they have to lose twice. 

I’m sorry if I struggle to feel sorry for the Heat if they lose to the Hornets and then Pacers or Wizards while being at home for all of the games. Or Dallas if they lose to Memphis then Golden State or San Antonio. 

At its simplest, the play-in has made more teams try to win and made seeds matter more than ever. Constantly as fans we’ve asked for the NBA to give us more meaning in the regular season and this does just that and now people are mad about it?

The truth is, people aren’t mad. The only people who don’t like it are conveniently the Mavericks and Lakers who are lower seeds than they expected during the vote before the season that all teams unanimously approved. 

This new format has given the NBA a European relegation element I never thought we’d see in North America. 

All of a sudden, teams like the Wizards are fighting desperately to keep themselves in the “top-flight” of the playoffs while the Lakers and whomever else are desperately attempting to avoid relegating themselves to a longer, playoff-less offseason.

Is it fake relegation since no one is actually leaving the NBA? Absolutely. However, just the fact it gives you something close to the feeling is something that is worth celebrating. 

The fact that despite their team’s disappointment we get to see Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Bradley Beal and maybe Luka Doncic or Jimmy Butler or Jayson Tatum or LeBron or whomever in a meaningful game is a beautiful thing.

Washington’s season was ruined by COVID-19 and Golden State by injury and yet they still have a chance. Meanwhile, teams like the Heat or Celtics who have disappointed face punishment. Again, I ask how in a world where we get more meaningful games could this possibly be a bad thing.

And guess what, if you don’t like it you have two options. Win more games or, don’t watch. 

Meanwhile, the rest of us will celebrate more meaningful basketball in our lives, something it’s taken the NBA decades to find a way to create. This isn’t going anywhere and that’s good for me, you and everyone else who loves this league. 

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