The NBA In-Season Tournament: Where you can lose and still win

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The NBA has really outdone itself this time. This In-Season tournament nobody asked for in the first place has gotten more convoluted as it extends into the later stages. Rewarding teams as they lose is the biggest participation trophy-era thing there could be. Sure, the analytics crowd is juiced about point differential playing a part in who ultimately wins, but it’s beyond silly.

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If this is how Commissioner Adam Silver thinks he’s getting players to care more about the regular season, he’s completely out of touch. These rules can force teams to play completely differently than they normally would given the game situation. This was the case Tuesday night during the Sacramento Kings-Golden State Warriors game.

Sacramento was in a position where they could have lost the game but still advanced to the next stage/round, so long as it was by less than 12 points. WNBA legend Candace Parker pointed that out following the game on TNT. Golden State was up by three late in the game after blowing a 17-point lead. The Warriors ended up losing outright, but Parker questioned a possession where they seemed to rush through the sequence because they needed to win by 12 and were only up three with time ticking away.

In some ways, it can add excitement because you get teams frantically trying to score more points in certain situations. But the idea of teams potentially “winning” because they lost by less than 12 is nonsensical. Technically, that game goes down in the loss column, but they advance further, staying alive for this NBA Cup championship.

Once you add in the scheduling where tourney games are mixed in during the week with regular season games, yet these early round tournament games count toward the regular season schedule, except for the championship, it’s honestly more trouble than it’s worth. Besides that, many star players have still missed time, whether related to load management or not.

Since this is Silver’s baby, it will be back next year. Here are a couple of suggestions for improving what the NBA started with its In-Season Tournament.

  1. Please do away with this point differential crap. It’s a helpful stat at times, but in no way should it be included in determining who advances, at least not as the first line of tiebreakers.
  2. Hold the tournament all at once over two weeks. Part of what makes this system weird is spacing the games out so much, especially when they still count toward regular season records.

These and other minor tweaks could give fans a better understanding and make many want to keep up with how things are progressing. Please get rid of the moral victories of a team losing and advancing anyway because they only lost by a few points. This is one of the most absurd stipulations in pro sports. There’s also no reason this tourney needs to run through November and parts of December with breaks in between. Run it for a couple of weeks and get this crap over with. 

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