I can’t think of a wilder season finish than this one. All of the different potential scenarios that could have occured, made so many of the final games worth watching.
Let’s start off with the most obvious: the defending champion LA Lakers still had a chance to avoid the play-ins after injuries and covid protocols left their roster in tatters and caused a dramatic slide in the standings. While the Lakers took care of business against the Pelicans, they couldn’t do anything about the Portland Trail Blazers, who wrecked the Denver Nuggets and guaranteed themselves a sixth place finish and forced the Lakers into the play-ins.
The battle in the west also continued with the Golden State Warriors taking the Memphis Grizzlies on in a winner-takes-all match for the right to the eighth seed and the chance to make the playoffs twice. Taking that game now sets up a mouth-watering matchup between the Lakers and Warriors. Steph Curry scored 46 points, reminding us that he could pose a lot of danger to the Lakers.
The race in the east was interesting, too. A showdown between the Hornets and Wizards allowed Washington, who went 17-6 in their last 23 games, to claim the eighth spot and a showdown the Boston Celtics.
The play-in drama was the cherry on top of an already-interesting final day that had teams still fighting for positioning, including the Jazz and Suns for first place in the West. The Clippers couldn’t take advantage of the Nuggets losing because they also dropped a game to the Thunder.
We’ll still need to watch the play-ins to see who the 76ers, Nets, Jazz and Suns face, but the guaranteed matchups so far are:
Eastern Conference: Bucks vs. Heat, Knicks vs. Hawks
Western Conference: Nuggets vs. Blazers, Clippers vs. Mavericks
In a season that’s already been filled with tons of drama, the tense finish that happened over the last three days wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting without the play-ins.
I think the play-in format is the kind of shakeup that the NBA needs. The trial run in the bubble last year was good, but the full implementation this year takes away some of the more annoying things about the NBA. It makes four additional teams avoid tanking, and also prevents teams from excessively resting their stars when available – lest they run into bad luck like the Lakers and end up having to fight for the right to the playoffs.