LOS ANGELES — When the Dallas Mavericks were sitting as the seven seed, suddenly Luka Doncic and Mark Cuban complained about the play-in games (even though Cuban had voted for them months earlier). Before that, Draymond Green said the play-in games don’t motivate him as it became clear the Warriors were destined for those games.
With their ugly loss to the Raptors on Sunday, the Lakers find themselves in a three-way tie for the 5/6/7 seeds in the West (with the Mavericks and Trail Blazers). The Lakers falling in the play-in games is a real possibility and, suddenly, LeBron James was throwing his opinion on the play-in game out there.
“Whoever came up with that s*** needs to be fired,” LeBron said.
It’s amazing how once a team might be forced to play in those games, they hate them.
Those games also are not going anywhere. It’s more likely the league will make them permanent.
The way the play-in games work is simple: At the end of the regular season, the No. 7 and 8 seeds will play one game, with the winner advancing into the traditional playoffs as the seven seed. Then the No. 9 and 10 seeds will play, the loser of that game is out and into the lottery. Finally, the loser of the 7/8 game and the winner of the 9/10 game will play each other in a single-elimination game, the winner becomes the eighth seed and the loser goes home.
The pressure around grabbing the six seed to avoid the play-in games, and the push by teams late such as Washington (in the East) to get into the 10 seed and give itself a chance has added meaning and drama to late-season games — which is exactly what the league wanted.
Traditionally there is not a lot of drama, not much to watch late in the NBA season. That three-way tie today between the Lakers, Mavericks, and Trail Blazers? Previously they would all be locks to be in the playoffs and the only question would be seedings and matchups. Now those teams are fighting to avoid the play-in games — it adds meaning to late-season games. Teams can’t just sit their stars without consequence. This is exactly what the NBA wanted.
Sorry LeBron, nobody is getting fired over the play-in games. If anything, someone is probably getting a raise.