Coming off March Madness, which ended in a shocking fashion on April 5, basketball fans everywhere are looking to the NBA for some big-time entertainment this spring. These fans can look forward to the newly established “NBA Play-In Tournament.”
Let’s take a second to visualize this: the ninth and tenth seeds of the Eastern and Western Conferences will be given the chance to earn a spot in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, while the seventh and eighth seeds have to defend their positions. This might not seem like a big deal at first, but for many long-time NBA fans, this creates a whole new dynamic for those teams hoping to have a chance to redeem themselves. Every year, the playoffs only star the top eight teams in the conferences, but the NBA decided to spice things up a bit this year.
The play-in tournament will start on May 18 and end on May 21, lasting a mere four days and transitioning into the start of the playoffs on May 22. To start off, the seventh-place teams will host the eighth seeded teams. The winner of this game will earn the seventh seed going into the playoffs. On the other hand, the ninth seeded teams will host the tenth seeds and the winner goes against the loser of the seventh-eighth seed game. The winner of this game will earn the eighth seed.
The NBA regular season has been well under way and some teams have their eyes set on this golden opportunity while others try to avoid it. Starting in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat, coming off an impressive performance last year ending in the NBA Finals, are looking to claim the sixth seed from the Boston Celtics and fly past the play-in tournament. The Charlotte Hornets, now seeded eighth, are looking to stay afloat with this second-chance opportunity, especially performing without their two greatest assets, potential rookie of the year LaMelo Ball and veteran player Gordon Hayward. This is especially true as Ball is scheduled to return from an injury soon. The Indiana Pacers, sitting at the ninth seed, have the play-in tournament to thank because without it, they’d be packing their bags. The Washington Wizards are located at the cutoff tenth seed, held up by the skill of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.
Turning our attention to the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks have overcome the Portland Trail Blazers who lost their enviable position only recently. The eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies are coming in hot with Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas looking to beat the Trail Blazers two times in a row before the postseason. The tenth seed Golden State Warriors will come out fighting, especially after the stellar performance of Stephen Curry this season who is averaging around 25 points per game and recently holding the record for most 30-point games in a row. The ninth seeded San Antonio Spurs are looking to play the West’s top two seeds, while the New Orleans Pelicans have their eyes on breaking into the tournament. This event is only three weeks away but each team still has about ten more regular season games scheduled. With this in mind, many teams may lose their coveted spots while others may advance by the time the tournament comes around.
While the higher seeded teams can relax knowing they have a spot in the playoffs, there are teams looking to overcome their odds and the results of a season full of injuries and COVID-19 related team disturbances. The NBA playoffs start on May 22 and will go through July 22— it looks like the entertainment will last through the summer.