NBA Play-In Tournament: Does It Really Change the Calculus of a Champion?


Nonnewaug senior John Paul Cuccia watches Patrick Beverley and the Minnesota Timberwolves celebrate NBA play-in tournament win against the Los Angeles Clippers last year. (Richie Paolino)

Richie Paolino, Sports Reporter

WOODBURY — The closing of the NBA season is an exciting time for basketball fans. Big headlines come over the last couple of weeks on which teams will partake in the NBA playoffs and who are serious contenders to win this year’s title.

While all this is exciting and gets NBA fans riled up, there is a small tournament right before the beginning of the playoffs to find out which last two seeds will make the playoffs: the league’s annual play-in tournament. 

Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers have been battling for an NBA Play-In spot to participate in the 2022-23 NBA playoffs.

In the past year’s, the NBA had the top eight teams from each conference make the playoffs. Now, however, the NBA implemented the play-in tournament in its 2019-20 season during the COVID-19 playoff bubble to give teams a few more games to make the playoffs. The current system gives the ninth and 10th seeds in each conference an opportunity to make the playoffs.

The tournament was first started to finish the season during COVID; now the NBA plans on having the tournament, or a similar version of it, for the foreseeable future.

“The play-in tournament, I thought, was a beginning of creating renewed incentives for teams to remain competitive and be fighting for playoff position,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver, via Bleacher Report. “It might be through in-season tournaments and changes in format where we can get at it.”

This may seem to others as more basketball to watch, but it also can be seen as an unnecessary addition and does not hold much value to which teams make the playoffs and inevitably gets eliminated by the higher seeds. 

“It just pushes the start of the playoffs farther away,” said Nonnewaug senior Eli Brochu. “Seeing lower end teams play each other to get knocked out by the higher seeds makes me care less about who wins the play-in games.”

There have been eight teams who went through the play-in tournament to compete in the playoffs, all of them have lost in the first round.

“It’s more games for the NBA to make money,” said NHS wellness instructor Ryan Campanario. “The only positive I see from the play-in is giving teams who would have had a long shot chance of making the playoffs a better one.”

In its first two seasons of existence, the NBA play-in tournament averaged 2.91 million TV viewers in 2021, and took a small hit of 2.45 million in 2022, but still being very profitable for the league with sellout crowds.

A fair amount of players, coaches and owners have spoken unpleasantly about the addition of the tournament, such as Lebron James saying in a postgame press conference “Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired.” 

The NBA has dealt with major problems with teams tanking for better draft position, but in today’s NBA, the play-in has been a productive step in having fewer teams tank.

“It makes more teams competitive towards the end of the season,” said Nonnewaug senior Mahro Mandible. “It does help prevent more teams from tanking by giving more teams a chance.” 

In the Western Conference this year, the six- through 12-seeds are all separated by four games, which is forcing each team to put out their best lineups every night. The Eastern Conference hasn’t been as impacted but can still see some teams fighting for a playoff spot.

While the NBA’s fans may agree the play-in tournament isn’t the best system, it’s hard to disagree that it’s helped teams stay more competitive longer than we have seen in recent years.