NBA in talks to add in-season tournament, re-seed conference Finals, shorten season

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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For more than a year now, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that the league’s upcoming 75th season — the 2021-22 season — would be the perfect time to make radical changes to the league’s schedule, trying new things to generate interest to counter the drop off in people watching traditional broadcasts.

Those changes may become a reality.

The league is in negotiations with the players’ union and broadcast partners to make sweeping changes that season. The idea would be to shorten the regular season by a handful of games (still playing at least 78), to add a mid-season tournament for every team, re-seeding the final four teams in playoffs regardless of conference, and more.

Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN have the details.

The NBA is engaged in serious discussions with the National Basketball Players Association and broadcast partners on sweeping and dramatic changes to the league calendar that include a reseeding of the four conference finalists, a 30 team in-season tournament, and a postseason play-in, league sources told ESPN.

These scenarios include the shortening of the regular season to a minimum of 78 games, league sources said.

Discussions are progressing with hopes of bringing a vote to the April meeting of the league’s Board of Governors that would introduce some — if not all of these proposals — into the NBA’s 75th anniversary season of 2021-2022, league sources said. The NBA still has work to do coordinating with constituents on the myriad of implications involving the proposed changes.

Getting all the parties involved to agree to this is a Herculean task. Silver is more of a consensus builder than a commissioner who wields his power like a dictator, but he’s going to need to twist some arms to make this happen. The argument to the teams is that while they lose a couple of regular season home games and that gate revenue (plus local broadcast revenue), the extra money from a mid-season tournament broadcast package would more than make up for that.

Let’s take a look at each proposal.

Re-seeding Conference Finals

There has been a concern in recent years that with the depth of the West the league’s two best teams meet in the conference finals, sucking the drama out of a Finals where the outcome feels obvious. Re-seeding the final four teams left in the playoffs could lead to more dramatic matchups in both rounds.

For example, if this had been done last season, the conference Finals would have been the Bucks vs. Trail Blazers and Warriors vs. Raptors (a scenario that probably sends the Milwaukee into the Finals and has Toronto taking on a healthier Golden State team). Two seasons ago it would have meant the 65-win Rockets take on LeBron James’ Cavaliers and Golden State vs. upstart Boston in the conference finals, potentially setting up the Rockets/Warriors as the NBA Finals (those were the two best teams that season). In both cases, the NBA gets what it wants, which is its biggest name players on its biggest stage in meaningful games.

While it breaks with tradition, it doesn’t change much in terms of the scheduling for the league or the broadcast partners. It’s possible some owners in the East object if they see their chances of reaching the Finals decreasing.

Mid-Season NBA Tournament

Adam Silver has been enamored with the European soccer model, where teams play for multiple titles in a season. While there is the regular season, there are also multiple cups and other championships — for example, the FA Cup in England — that gives fans something else to root and hope for. A team stuck in the middle of the Premiere League table could make a run deep into the FA Cup, giving those fans hope and a reason to tune in.

Silver also has liked the idea of being able to sell this tournament as a separate broadcast package — remember FOX and CBS had serious interest in broadcasting NBA games during the last negotiations — that generates more revenue for the league.

This likely would run early in the season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas (ideally adding interest during a part of the year when fans are more focused on the NFL and college bowl games).

Structurally, this would start with some already-scheduled regular-season division games also counting as part of a round-robin group stage (putting a double meaning on those games and upping the importance of what could otherwise be a bland regular season night). From there, the top teams would advance to a knock-out stage event (which would have the separate broadcast rights).

To motivate teams and players, there is going to have to be a significant financial incentive for them. This new tournament is not baked into the culture of the sport or the psyche of fans the way it is in European soccer. It’s going to take a long time for this to grow, it can’t be a one-year thing.

Playoff play-in games

This is another proposal that has bounced around the NBA in various forms for a few years. The idea is to take seeds 7, 8, 9, and 10 and put them in a special tournament. The 7 seed would host the 8 seed in one play-in game, with the winner automatically advancing to the playoffs. The 9 seed would host the 10 seed, and the loser of that game is out. Then the loser of the 7/8 game and the winner of the 9/10 game would meet in a one-game, winner gets into the playoffs contest.

Last season this would have meant in the East Orlando would have played Detroit, with the loser of that game facing the winner of a Charlotte/Miami matchup for the right to continue on in the playoffs. In the West, the Clippers and Spurs would have been the 7/8 matchup, with the loser having to face the winner of a Kings/Lakers game to be in the traditional part of the postseason.

The league’s goal here is obvious: Get more fan bases interested in the games late in the season and not looking ahead to the draft and free agency. (There has been a legitimate concern in at the top of the league about the focus on transactions by fans and not the games themselves, and what that would mean for the future of the sport.)

Shortening the NBA season

That’s not happening here in any meaningful way. This will not address concerns about load management or injury concerns from players.

The regular season would become 78 games, although teams that advance to the finals of the mid-season tournament would still play about 81 games. It is possible that if a 9/10 seed team also made a run to the finals of the mid-season tournament they could play 83 games; however, that would be a very rare occurrence.

LeBron scores 19 off bench in return, Bulls spoil party with 118-108 win


LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 points off the bench in his return from a monthlong injury absence, but Zach LaVine scored 32 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 118-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

DeMar DeRozan added 17 points for the Bulls, who easily overcame James’ return for their seventh win in nine games. LaVine hit 11 of his first 14 shots to lead an offensive effort that snapped the Lakers’ three-game winning streak despite the return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.

James sat out 13 games with right foot soreness, missing four weeks during the Lakers’ run at a playoff berth. The team provided few updates on his recovery, and his return came with little advance warning.

“I felt confident in the workouts that I had this week,” James said. “And the day after the workouts, when I woke up, stepped out down off the bed, I could possibly play today. And after my workout early before the game today, I knew I could play.”

For only the second time in his 20-year, 1,958-game NBA career, James wasn’t a starter. He came in as a reserve midway through the first quarter, doing his standard pregame chalk toss while receiving a standing ovation from Lakers fans. James got a field goal in every quarter, and he finished with eight rebounds, three assists and five turnovers in 30 minutes.

“You could see him getting his rhythm, his timing, his finishes, all of that,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “He’s a savvy veteran, one of the greatest ever to do it, so it’s not going to take all that much.”

Chicago largely controlled play despite James’ return, streaking to a 20-point lead in the second quarter. Los Angeles briefly got the lead down to single digits down the stretch, but got no closer.

“There are going to be swings, and that was the encouraging part,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I’m seeing a response back competitively.”

Patrick Beverley had 10 points and five assists in his first game against the Lakers since they traded him last month. Beverley has been outspoken about his desire to hurt the Lakers’ playoff hopes during this home-and-home series between the teams, but Davis and the other Lakers just smiled at his provocative talk.

When Beverley made a little hook shot with 1:12 left to boost Chicago’s lead back to double digits, Beverley slapped the floor and made the dismissive “too small” gesture sometimes used by NBA players to taunt their opponents, in this case James.

“I was just playing basketball,” Beverley said. “Obviously it’s good to see some old teammates, old coaching staff.”

Troy Brown Jr. and Malik Beasley scored 18 points apiece, but Anthony Davis managed just 15 points and nine rebounds as the Lakers (37-38) failed to get above .500 for the first time since Jan. 9, 2022.

The Lakers were without D’Angelo Russell, who missed his second straight game with a right hip injury. Los Angeles went 8-5 in James’ absence, but his return will force an adjustment of the chemistry built by his teammates in his absence.

“We came out a little flat, turned the ball over early, just weren’t aggressive enough, physical enough,” Ham said.

The Bulls largely controlled Davis even after Nikola Vucevic was ejected in the second quarter with two quick technical fouls when he argued what appeared to be a good call against him. Donovan jokingly wondered how Vucevic could be ejected when he was arguing in his native Serbian.

“Obviously it was a bad decision by me to react the way I did,” Vucevic said. “My mistake. I’m just glad my teammates came through for us. I obviously overreacted, for sure.”

Watch Dončić pick up 16th technical, will result in one-game suspension


Luka Dončić barks at the referees more than any player in the league, and with that he does not get the benefit of the doubt when he’s flirting with the edge of a technical foul.

That caught up with Dončić on Sunday, when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper, said something to the nearby official, and racked up his 16th technical this season. That will mean an automatic one-game suspension unless it is rescinded (which is unlikely in this case).

Dončić likely will have to sit out Monday when the Mavericks play the Pacers on the second game of a back-to-back.

This suspension comes on the heels of Dončić being fined $35,000 — but not being given a technical foul at the time — for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after another recent Mavericks loss.

Dončić went on to have 40 points Sunday but the Mavericks lost again — their second time in a row to the tanking Hornets, their fourth in a row overall and they have now dropped 7-of-9. That has dropped them out of even the play-in to 11th in the West. The Mavericks need to rack up wins over the season’s final two weeks to even make the postseason.

And they must get that next win Monday without Dončić in the lineup.


UPDATE: LeBron “active,” will make return to court Sunday vs. Bulls

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
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UPDATE: LeBron James has officially been upgraded to active and will make his return to the team on Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.


A couple of days ago, reports said LeBron James hoped to return and play the final few games before the season ended and he said there was no timeline for his return.

In less than 24 hours the Lakers have moved LeBron from “out” last game to “doubtful” and now — as of Sunday morning — questionable for the Lakers game against the Bulls. While nothing is confirmed, these are the steps a team takes before a player returns from injury. LeBron is going to test his foot pregame and make a decision.

LeBron had been pushing to return from a foot tendon injury that had sidelined him for 13 games. The Lakers have gone 8-5 in those games behind the second-best defense in the league over that stretch. What has struggled during those games has been the offense (23rd in the league) and LeBron instantly fixes that. He has averaged 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game this season and the Laker offense has been six points per 100 possessions better when he has been on the court.

The Lakers currently sit tied for the No.7/8 seeds in the West, with an outside shot at climbing into the top six (they are 1.5 games back of the Lakers and Clippers who are tied for sixth, but if those teams go 4-3 the rest of the way the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight just to tie them). The Lakers are also one game ahead of the 11-seed Dallas Mavericks and missing out on the playoffs entirely.

The Lakers need wins the rest of the way to secure a playoff spot, and some time to build chemistry heading into the playoffs. Having LeBron James helps with all of that.

Nets thrash Heat, move back up to No.6 seed in East

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat
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MIAMI (AP) — All the Brooklyn Nets needed, coach Jacque Vaughn insisted, was one win.

They got it, and made it look easy.

Mikal Bridges scored 27 points, and the Nets opened the third quarter on a 31-6 run on the way to rolling past Miami 129-100 on Saturday night and leapfrogging the Heat back into the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Cam Johnson added 23 points and Spencer Dinwiddie scored 15 for the Nets (40-34), who snapped a five-game slide. They’re only a half-game up on Miami (40-35) in the race for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff berth, but swept the Heat 3-0 this season and would also own a head-to-head tiebreaker.

“We had the mindset coming in that this was a playoff game,” Johnson said.

Max Strus scored 23 for the Heat, all of them in the first half. Tyler Herro scored 23, Jimmy Butler had 18 and Bam Adebayo finished with 16 for the Heat. Miami was outscored 64-31 after halftime.

“We have not been defending at a world-class level, the way we’re capable of … and the second half just became an avalanche,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Strus came off the bench and made his first nine shots, one of them putting Miami up 51-37 midway through the second quarter. Over the next 14 minutes, the Nets outscored Miami 54-24 – completely turning the game around, eventually leading by 32 and, for now, putting Brooklyn in position to escape the play-in tournament that’ll decide the final two East playoff berths.

“You see how this March Madness is and you’re one and you’re done,” Vaughn said. “And that’s part of it. I have not discussed any of the standings with this group. Really, we have gone day to day and tried to get a win.”

The Heat could have moved 1 1/2 games up on Brooklyn for sixth with a win.

“There has been nothing easy about this season and that doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be a negative thing,” Spoelstra said. “You have to embrace the struggle. You have to figure out ways to stay together … but we just got categorically outplayed tonight.”

It was Brooklyn’s second trip to Miami this season. The first was Jan. 8 – which ended up being the last time Kevin Durant played for the Nets, and the last time Durant and Kyrie Irving played together. Durant left that game with a knee injury, then got traded to Phoenix, and Irving has since been dealt to Dallas, as well.

The Nets were 27-13 after that night, second in the East, just a game behind Boston for the best record in the NBA. They’re 13-21 since, yet still have the Heat looking up at them in the standings – which Vaughn insists he hasn’t discussed with his team.

“You need the momentum, the confidence, the reassurance that you can get it done,” Vaughn said. “So, haven’t tried to complicate it more than that.”