This season marks the start of the NBA’s first in-season tournament, imaginatively named the “In-Season Tournament”. Seriously, we couldn’t have called it the James Naismith Memorial Cup or something more creative? Whatever.
Basically how it works is like this:
- Every NBA team has been sorted into six different groups of five, with three groups per conference. For the Kings, their group consists of the Golden State Warriors, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs.
- Throughout the month of November, each group will play the other members of their group on designated nights until everyone’s played each other once. These games all count as regular season games as well. The Kings play the Thunder on Nov. 10th, Spurs on Nov. 17th, Timberwolves on Nov. 24th and Warriors on Nov. 28th.
- The winners of each group, as well as two wild-cards with the next best records will then advance to the Knockout Stage. The quarterfinals will take place on Dec. 4th & 5th and these games will also count as regular season games.
- The semifinals and championship will take place on Dec. 7th and 9th respectively at a neutral site. Las Vegas will be the inaugural neutral site this season. While the semifinals will count as a regular season game, the championship will not.
- For teams that don’t make the knockout stages or are eliminated during the knockout rounds, they’ll play two regular season games on the days the tournament isn’t going on, with those games yet to be scheduled. Every team will still play 82 games, aside from the champions and runners-up, who will play an 83rd (but again, that doesn’t count for the regular season).
- Winners of the tournament are set to get $500,000 apiece, with runners-up making $200,000. The NBA will also name a Tournament MVP and All-Tournament Team.
So it’s all a bit convoluted, but essentially this tournament aims to make the regular season a bit more exciting with a bit of extra meaningful games during the season. Will the players end up caring or playing extra hard in those tournament games? Will fans pay more attention to the NBA during those months when the NFL tends to have more of the nation’s attention? The NBA is betting on it helping at least a little bit, and I think they might be on to something.
The last major change the NBA made to the season was the inclusion of the Play-In Tournament at the end of the season for the last two playoff spots. While there was some initial trepidation and blowback, the Play-In Tournament has largely been a success so far. Combined with flatter lottery odds, there’s been less incentive for teams to tank than ever, and the tournament has provided some crazy highlights. Just last year, the Miami Heat narrowly avoided elimination in the Play-In Tournament, losing to the Hawks in the first game before defeating the Bulls in their second game. They then went all the way to the NBA Finals.
The In-Season Tournament also includes one of the best things in sports: Win or go home games. In the playoffs, any team can win one game but it’s much harder to take four off an opponent, so upsets are rarer. In a tournament like this, it’s much easier for big upsets to happen. We could also see teams that maybe aren’t in the playoff chase make big runs in the tournament simply because they did well in those group stage games.
All in all, I think the In-Season Tournament, although boringly named, should add a little bit of intrigue to a regular season that has largely been stale and lacking major excitement for many teams. I don’t think we’re at the point yet where teams are going to necessarily be going out of their way to try to win the tournament, but every tradition has to start somewhere. These games were going to be played anyway, now there’s just a little something extra about them.