The NBA — you remember it, right? — starts its postseason this week. The league, sitting quite uncomfortably after a season of far more often than not no fans in the stands and approximately the same number watching on television, is hoping that some playoff magic will bring back the faithful, although the Orlando Magic didn’t make the cut, alas.
In an effort to gin up some more interest, the NBA is imitating college basketball to a degree with a mini one-and-done tournament. Back in the days of yore, the top eight teams from each conference made the playoffs and that was that. This year, the top six teams from each conference make the playoffs. Here’s where the new twist on things begins:
The seventh and eighth place teams will play each other in one game. The winner of this game is declared the seventh seed and will play the second seed in the first round.
The ninth and tenth place teams will play each other in one game. The loser goes home. The winner …
… will play the loser of the game between the seventh and eighth seed in one game. The winner of this game will be declared the eighth seed and will play the first seed in the first round. The loser goes home and, should it be either the seventh or eighth place team, wonder what demonic mind thought this would be a great idea, as in any other year they’d be in the playoffs.
Since the NBA is far more about individual athletes than teams, it comes as no surprise that the league is giddy over how in the Western Conference the seventh and eighth place positions are occupied by the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. This sets up a flurry of hyping a LeBron James versus Stephen Curry matchup. Oddly enough, no great publicity push is lined up for the ninth versus tenth place team clash as apparently this latest installment in the legendary Memphis Grizzlies versus San Antonio Spurs rivalry isn’t quite capturing the public’s imagination.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference interest in this play-in scenario extends as far as the Boston Celtics fan base, as the Celtics finished a surprisingly low seventh and thus must play the eighth-place Washington Wizards. Meanwhile, hold on to your hat and throw out the record books for the ninth and tenth place teams brawl to end it all if not in fact the war to settle the score … Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets. The only way this game gets a lick of attention outside of the respective team’s home market is if Hornets owner Michael Jordon decides to sneak onto the court and throw down a dunk or two.
Setting aside the play-in folderol, there are some intriguing plot lines waiting to be played out (no pun intended). In the Western Conference, can the Utah Jazz live up to their number one seed? Ditto with the number two Phoenix Suns. Let’s be honest here; the NBA’s worst nightmare is Utah winning the west, as their no-name team play concept — plus the fact the team is in Utah — is hardly the stuff of which dream marketing campaigns are made. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, can anyone stop the Brooklyn Nets’ three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden? Other than the Nets themselves, that is.
The NBA has a very, very long way to go in terms of winning back a fan base more than a little alienated with the league’s wholehearted embrace of BLM last season. It is no doubt desperately hoping the playoffs will provide a boost in this regard. Whether it happens remains to be seen. In the meanwhile, enjoy the games. Or don’t. Your call.