Analysis: NBA championship season does what it means. Now things should heat up even more
There was no shortage of reasons for the NBA In-Season. The benefits are already clear: ratings are up, people are talking about the games before Christmas, and some players say there’s extra energy in those competitions.
This means it works. Given that qualification to the playoffs is at stake starting this week, it is reasonable to believe that interest will continue to grow.
“I was just interested to see how it would happen, how it would work,” Sacramento guard DeAaron Fox said last week after his team took a 2-0 lead in a league game. “I’m not one of those people who says ‘I think this is stupid’ because I don’t do it. I think it could be interesting for this league.”
Going into Tuesday, 37 of the 60 group stage matches of the inaugural tournament had been played. (Five more games will be played on Tuesday.) Ratings soared; Games shown on ESPN received 55% more views than those in similar windows last year. It’s not exactly must-see TV yet — the nationally shown championship games draw about 1.7 million viewers — but better numbers are better numbers, and that’s the point.
Tell people the game means more, and they’ll be more inclined to watch it. Some of the 10 matches on Friday are sure to have implications for who advances to the quarter-finals, and the same applies to the final eight group stage matches that will take place on November 28.
“Some of the courts look a little funky,” Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James said as the tournament gets underway and players get used to everything, including the different paint schemes on the tournament floors, which have drawn criticism before. Players like Boston’s Jaylen Brown and others due to safety concerns. Sliding has been a factor in some games.
“But I think it’s great, in the sense that the league is spicing things up,” James added. “I’ve seen some quotes from some players that some games looked like a playoff atmosphere, that kind of intensity. So, that’s great.
A reminder on how this all works – six group winners advance to the quarter-finals and two of the winning teams will advance to that round as well. These will be the two best runner-up teams, which likely means teams with 3-1 records and strong point differentials.
The quarter-final matches will be held on December 4 and 5. The semifinals of the Final Four will be held in Las Vegas on December 7, and the championship game – worth $500,000 per player, along with the NBA trophy – will be held on December 9.
Here’s a look at each group up to this point:
Al Sharq Group A
Standings: Indiana 2-0, Philadelphia 2-1, Cleveland 1-1, Atlanta 1-1, Detroit 0-3.
Tuesday matches: Indiana at Atlanta, Cleveland at Philadelphia.
Friday game: Detroit at Indiana.
November 28 game: Atlanta at Cleveland.
Future Outlook: The Pacers take control here, pulling off a head-to-head tiebreaker over Philadelphia. The Philly-Cleveland game could be an elimination game. Atlanta should almost certainly win. Detroit was eliminated.
Al Sharq Group B
Standings: Milwaukee 2-0, Miami 2-0, New York 1-1, Charlotte 1-2, Washington 0-3.
Tuesday matches: none.
Friday matches: Miami at New York, Washington at Milwaukee.
November 28 matches: Charlotte at New York, Milwaukee at Miami.
Predictions: It would be a good thing if playoff contenders Miami and Milwaukee end up meeting for first place in the group. New York probably needs two wins to have a chance. Charlotte needs a win and a lot of help. Washington cannot advance.
Eastern group c
Standings: Boston 2-0, Brooklyn 2-1, Orlando 1-1, Toronto 0-1, Chicago 0-2.
Tuesday match: Toronto at Orlando.
Friday matches: Boston at Orlando, and Chicago at Toronto.
November 28 matches: Chicago at Boston, Toronto at Brooklyn.
Predictions: Boston leads with two wins. One may also be enough. A 3-1 Orlando finish could send the Magic to the playoffs, since that would include a win over the Celtics. Brooklyn vs. Toronto could be a playoff game, and Chicago needs two wins to have any chance.
Western Group A
Standings: Los Angeles Lakers 3-0, Utah 2-1, Phoenix 1-1, Portland 1-2, Memphis 0-3.
Tuesday matches: Utah vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Portland vs. Phoenix.
Friday game: Phoenix at Memphis.
November 28 matches: none.
Predictions: Lakers-Jazz could clinch the series; Los Angeles clinches a quarterfinal berth with a win. Utah’s win creates a real chance to finish off three teams at 3-1. The Lakers and Jazz would both have that record and Phoenix would still be able to get there, and at least one of those two teams wouldn’t be able to move forward in that scenario. Portland is still alive just mathematically, and Memphis is out.
Western group B
Standings: New Orleans 2-1, Denver 2-1, Houston 1-1, Dallas 1-2, Los Angeles Clippers 1-2.
Tuesday matches: none.
Friday matches: Denver vs. Houston, New Orleans vs. Los Angeles Clippers.
November 28 game: Houston vs. Dallas.
Predictions: New Orleans goes head-to-head with Denver to lead the pack, but if you like chaos, this is the deck for you. If all of this happens — the Clippers beat the Pelicans, the Rockets beat the Nuggets, the Mavs beat the Rockets — everyone will finish 2-2. Break the tie! Point spreads! The .500 team makes the playoffs!
Western group c
Standings: Sacramento 2-0, Minnesota 2-0, Golden State 1-1, Oklahoma City 1-2, San Antonio 0-3.
Tuesday matches: none.
Friday matches: Sacramento vs. Minnesota, San Antonio vs. Golden State.
November 28 matches: Golden State at Sacramento, Oklahoma City at Minnesota.
Prediction: Minnesota will win the series if it beats Sacramento. The Kings will be in control with a win there. Golden State needs two wins to help it lead the group. Oklahoma City must win to keep its slim hope of a quarterfinal spot alive, and Victor Wimpanyama will not play in Vegas next month with the Spurs already eliminated.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at trenolds(at)ap.org
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