LA Clippers Head Coach Tyronn Lue shared his thoughts on the Play-In tournament format, and pointed out an interesting wrinkle that could disadvantage the best teams in the league.
This year’s format differs from last year’s Bubble experiment, in which the no. 8-seeded Trail Blazers played the no. 9-seeded Grizzlies. Portland won their first game, automatically securing a playoff berth, but if Memphis had won, the two teams would’ve played again, and the winner of that game would’ve been the eighth seed. This season, the no. 7 and 10 seeds are involved in the tournament as well. The teams with the seventh and eighth best records in their conferences play each other, and the winner of that game is declared the no. 7 seed. Meanwhile, the teams with the ninth and tenth best records play each other, and the winner of that game goes on to play the loser of the seven-eight matchup. The winner of that game is deemed the no. 8 seed.
It’s all a bit tough to grasp, but essentially, three games will be played after the end of the regular season to determine who the no. 1 and no. 2 seeds will play in the first round of the postseason. What Lue astutely pointed out is that this means the top two teams in each conference will not know who they’re playing until the last minute—the tournament ends on May 21, and the postseason begins May 22.
It’s a valid concern. The middle four teams in each conference will each have time to game plan for their set-in-stone opponent while the tournament will be taking place (and potentially before the season ends, depending on how the standings shake out), while the top two teams, who, ideally, should be rewarded for holding the best records, are left to prepare for four different opponents.
The Clippers might’ve lost their way out of this conundrum on Wednesday night against Phoenix. Dropping a game against the Suns means they are now two games behind them for the no. 2 seed, and only a game ahead of the Denver Nuggets for the no. 4 seed. It’s still not impossible for LA to gain ground and finish with a top-two record with eight games left in the season, but if they do end up as either the no. 3 or 4 seed, at least they’ll have more time to game-plan for their opponent. They’ll have to, if they end up drawing the sleeping giant Los Angeles Lakers in a 4-5 matchup.