The NBA and its players’ union have agreed to keep the league’s playoff play-in tournament for at least one more season, according to ESPN, despite loud criticism of the format from some of the league’s top players.
The tournament features the teams in each conference with the seventh through 10th best records in the season competing for the final two playoff spots, in contrast to the previous format, where the top eight teams from each conference qualified directly to the playoffs.
The play-in tournament was included during the current NBA season since the regular season schedule was shortened from 82 games to 72 games per team, but the league will be back to its normal schedule next season.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly said he’d like the tournament to become a permanent feature, and it was also well-received by fans — the play-in games had high TV ratings.
The decision to keep the tournament will ultimately need the approval of the NBA Board of Governors at its August meeting, with an approval vote considered all but a formality, according to ESPN.
The Los Angeles Lakers-Golden State Warriors play-in game on May 19 had 5.62 million viewers on ESPN, at the time making it the most-watched NBA game on the network since 2019.
Lakers star LeBron James blasted the tournament before its start this season, telling reporters, “whoever came up with that s—- needs to be fired” following a regular season loss in May. Veteran Warriors forward Draymond Green also said toward the end of the season that, “no play-in game is going to motivate me at this point of my career.”
The tournament’s format involves the No. 7 team playing the No. 8 team, with the winner clinching the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. Another game between the No. 9 and No. 10 teams is a single-elimination knockout, with the loser eliminated and the winner going on to face the loser of the game between No. 7 and No. 8. The winner of that game clinches the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. Many fans and NBA commentators believe the new tournament will make the NBA season more competitive, since opening up more spots for lower-performing teams that otherwise wouldn’t have a shot at the playoffs might discourage “tanking”—losing games on purpose or putting in a low effort to ensure the team has a high draft pick. The same proponents also argue it’ll incentivize top teams to keep performing, since finishing in the top six is necessary to automatically clinch a spot in the playoffs.