NBA In-Season Tournament: How Does it Work, and Why Does it Matter?

The NBA In-Season Tournament has been a controversial idea among the NBA community since day one. While in other parts of the world it is common for a team to be competing in more than one league or tournament at a time, it’s a bit different in the United States.

With that in mind, many were critical of the idea of an in-season tournament in the NBA. To them, it seemed like too much, having torunament games count in teams’ regular season record, and some teams playing an extra game meant the tournment wasn’t worth it.

I’m here to tell you why this tournament could be very good for the league, and add some excitement to the NBA calendar.

What if the Players Don’t Care About it?

Before the season began, many people thought the tournament wouldn’t matter much at all in the long run, and that the players wouldn’t care either. Even though each NBA team has only played a couple of tournament games so far this season, we already have a perfect example of players being educated on the tournament, and caring about it as a whole.

In this clip, we see a perfect example of Sabonis understanding the severity of the rules regarding the tournament. We can’t blame Kevin Heurter for not shooting the three, since this is literally the first NBA game he’s played in which point-differential matters as a tiebreaker.

We also can applaud Sabonis for being aware of the situation. His emotional reaction also proves that he cares. Sabonis, in this play, demonstrates what many players have already done in the young life of the tournament: they understand it, and they care.

Will the fans care?

Well, at first, likely not much. As much as one can hope for the tournament to be a successful part of the NBA, it’s important to realize that it will likely take at least a year or two, or possibly even more for this to happen.

A good comparison here would be the NBA’s Play-In Tournament. The play-in tournament confused many at first, and in the first year or two it didn’t get much recognition. Finally, after Jimmy Butler started his incredible postseason run in the Play-In Tournament last year, it finally got some recognition.

The In-Season Tournament will likely take a little while to warm up to some fans. It may just take an iconic moment like Butler’s for that to happen. Those are the two biggest concerns regarding the tournament’s rise to relevancy. Now, let’s actually try and understand how it works.

How Does the In-Season Tournament Work?

The tournament takes place strictly in the first portion of the season. It began within the first two weeks of the year, and will wrap up with the championship taking place on December 9th in Las Vegas.

Each conference is divided into three groups of five teams. All of the groups were randomly drawn. Each team ends up playing a total of four games in this group play, just one against each team in their group, two games both home and away. These game days are called “tournament nights”, and on these nights, every game on the league’s slate that night becomes part of the tournament.

After each team plays four games, the field narrows all the way down from 30, to eight. The team with the best record in each group will automatically move on, with the best second-place team from each conference moving on as well. Tiebreakers are decided by point differential, so don’t be surprised if you see teams playing until the final buzzer instead of running the clock out.

All of the knockout games will be single-elimination matches. The quarterfinal and semi-finals matchups will count towards those teams’ 82-game total, but the teams that advance to the championship game will end up playing an extra regular-season game. Finally, all of these regular season games will take place in Las Vegas.

So, What’s the Point?

One of the biggest criticisms that faces the NBA today is the lack of importance of regular season games. This is evident on many levels. The average regular season game isn’t very important. This is especially true when it’s the beginning of the season and players know they have 60-70 games remaining. The NBA has also been trying to combat load management issues, with players taking off extra games for rest. Finally, The NBA also has a lot of casual fans, who only watch during the playoffs.

All of these reasons are the cause of the NBA implementing this tournament. With this, the dullest part of the regular season will get some added meaning. This tournament forces excitement into the dog days of the NBA season. Now, these games have meaning, and by the time the tournament is over, fans can focus their attention on the trade deadline. Then the year starts to kick towards the playoffs.

The NBA In-Season Tournament is a work in progress. Give it some time, and it might turn out to be great for the league.

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