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In February, with objections to the NBA’s decision to simmer an All-Star Game, LeBron James increased the pressure. “I don’t even understand why we are having an All-Star Game,” James said. So a minor problem turned into a major headache. James’s words served as rocket fuel for the discussion. A debate previously relegated to basketball-focused websites suddenly gained column inches in the New York Times Y Washington Post, with wall-to-wall coverage of online talk shows.
On Sunday, hours after the Lakers’ loss to the Raptors, James stirred the NBA pot one more time. For months, the merits of the play-in tournament, the four-team-per-conference mini-playoff that will determine the last two postseason seeds have been debated for months. Some, like Mavericks star Luka Dončić, have argued that a 72-game season should be enough to determine a playoff field. James apparently agrees with him. “Whoever came up with that shit,” James said, “needs to be fired.”
No heads will roll at Olympic Tower, of course. And why would they do it? The play-in, in all its forms, has been a success. Last season, with the NBA rebooting in Florida, Portland, Memphis, Phoenix and San Antonio battled for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs. This season, Memphis, Golden State and San Antonio are within one game of the eighth seed in the West. In the East, Washington, Indiana and Charlotte are within two games of each other in the loss column.
Do you think the Wizards are lost in the game? By mid-January, the Washington season was in shambles. Seven players tested positive for COVID-19. The team’s facilities were closed. The players were isolated. Davis Bertans spent two weeks with an Xbox at a Residence Inn. When games resumed, the Wizards, still slow from the firing, lost four games in a row.
In another season, Washington might have considered joining the race to the bottom. Instead, with the entry tournament offering hope, the Wizards have moved on. They picked up Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline to strengthen the frontcourt. Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal look more comfortable playing together for the game. Rui Hachimura, injured for much of January, has had a consistent scoring presence ever since. Not only is Washington a threat to make the playoffs, but it will be a nightmare matchup for any seeded (hello Brooklyn) if he gets there.
And what about Golden State? The Warriors’ title hopes were dashed when Klay Thompson tore his Achilles tendon before the season. But Golden State has battled adversity to position itself for an entry tournament shot. Do you think the NBA wouldn’t benefit from a couple of extra tall Stephen Curry games? Do you think the playoffs wouldn’t be better with Curry, an MVP candidate, in them? Do you think the ratings, which have hit rock bottom this season, wouldn’t benefit from some unique games early in the playoffs? Ask MLB how it worked.
And the downside is … what, exactly? It’s worth noting that both Dončić and James were hovering around the No. 7 seed when they criticized the play-in tournament. It’s fair to argue that the No. 7 seed shouldn’t be involved in the play-in, which should be reserved for the eighth and ninth seeds, and even then some team executives have argued that there should be a game only if the ninth seed is up. a few games away from No. 8. “The play-in is great, especially for young teams that have something to play for,” said a team executive. Y. “But you don’t want to devalue the regular season too much.”
Adding games to a schedule already challenged by COVID is a problem, perhaps more than the NBA anticipated before the season. (Side note: The NBA should have anticipated that COVID causing a wave of early problems, should have spent the first half of the season in a bubble and would do they have protected the integrity of a season that for the first two months was a disaster … but that’s a discussion for another day). But in the long run some version of the play-in it will be part of the NBA calendar. The tournament received unanimous support from the league’s Board of Governors last fall and has a fierce defender in Adam Silver, who said Y Last summer he believed the play-in was “a great addition to the league.”
“I see this as something we would adopt in the future,” Silver said. As you know, I’ve been talking about it for a while. I’m not sure if this would be the exact format in the future. But this is something we would like to see it stay with. “
For years, the NBA has looked for ways to improve the regular season, to reduce the number of teams that stagnate toward the end of it. Smoothing out the lottery odds, which the NBA reviewed in 2019, helped. The game will help more. James’ voice brings player issues with the game to the forefront. But it will do nothing to change it.
The Russell Westbrook case
Shortly after Washington’s 154-141 win over Indiana, a game spearheaded by the astonishing 14-point, 21-rebound, 24-assist effort of Russell Westbrook, Wizards coach Scott Brooks set fire to social media saying this about his All-Star escort:
“I always used to say that he’s probably going to go down as the third-best point guard ever, but I think he’s passed one and he’s probably going to be the second-best,” Brooks said. “One is obviously magical [Johnson]. What it does, no point guard has ever done it. No one. No one.”
“There may be some who shoot better, there may be some who can probably do certain things better. But there is no one in the history of the game who can do what he does along the stat sheet. That guy is so high as the level of a player this league has ever seen ”.
Brooks is not wrong about Westbrook’s impact on the position. Make a list of players with 20 rebound games / 20 assists in NBA history. It won’t take long. Westbrook, who did it for him second Monday time, it’s one. Wilt Chamberlain is the other. If Stephen Curry revolutionized point guard with his shots, Westbrook has done it with speed and power.
Is it the second best? all the time? Curry would make a modern argument against that. Go back further and John Stockton and Isiah Thomas would like a word. Bob Cousy, still 92 years old, would probably have an opinion. The point guard is among the most talented positions in the NBA, which makes the debate highly subjective.
(I texted Brooks after the game about his comments on Westbrook, he responded with a long list of former Celtics point guards, including John Bagley and Dana Barros, that I, a Boston native, would probably take over. from Westbrook. It’s worth noting that Brooks himself is technically a former Celtic point guard, having spent five glorious days with Boston after being traded there in 1997 before being summarily released).
Debating Westbrook’s legacy is polarizing, with critics (Inefficient! Do not win!) equaling the number of Brooks supporters. But Brooks is right about Westbrook’s statistical impact. His three seasons in a rowseasons!Averaging a triple-double is the NBA’s 56-game hitting streak, a record that will never, ever be broken. He is one of the best teammates in the NBA (Bradley Beal recently called Westbrook “probably” the best teammate he’s ever had, echoing a statement many have made) with a work ethic that has rubbed off on many, including the young Wizards. Brooks may have been a small hyperbolic with his praise of Westbrook on Monday. But it wasn’t that far.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.