In pre-pandemic times it would be a lot easier for the Toronto Raptors to look at the standings and know exactly where they sit.
With 15 games still remaining on the schedule, the Raptors are 4.5 games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and would have to jump four teams to get into the traditional playoff picture. It would be enough for Toronto to fully shift toward a rebuild and start planning for next season.
This year, however, with the implementation of the play-in tournament the Raptors are somewhat stuck in NBA purgatory. They're only a half-game out of the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and the final spot in the play-in tournament. In some ways, it's given Toronto hope. It's allowed teams like the Raptors who have dealt with COVID-19 issues, relocation trouble, and just about everything else this year to potentially make the playoffs and go on a miracle run.
"If you can get it ironed out and pick up some momentum and get healthy or whatever, I think a lot of NBA teams could probably move on out of that thing," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Saturday.
But move on out to what? Probably a meeting with the Brooklyn Nets or Philadelphia 76ers and if the NBA's history is any indication, a 93% chance of losing in the first round.
Looking at the way the Raptors have handled things lately it's not even clear Toronto as an organization really wants to get into the playoffs. The Raptors have been resting their best players on and off over the past few games and they seem totally content to just improve their lottery odds over the final 15 games.
The play-in tournament has essentially created a facade of hope for teams that don't seem to want it. Golden State's Draymond Green basically said as much earlier in the month. To him, a three-time NBA champion, they're not the real playoffs.
"Play-in games don’t motivate me," he said. "I’m not going to spend every minute like, 'man, we’re right on the cusp of that play-in.' I don’t give a damn about that play-in game. If that’s where we are and we’re in the game, yeah, I’m going to do all I can to win the game. But the play-in situation isn’t going to get me out of my bed like 'I’ve got to bust my a** today because we’re fighting for the play-in spot.' That ain’t going to push me"
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet seems to somewhat share that sentiment.
"Ask me in a couple weeks," he joked. "If we're not in it then it's stupid and it was a bad decision and I think it's easy to say that in hindsight. But if, somehow, we make it into the play-in then I would say that type of mentality is not gonna work for you.
"I will say I do think the play-in made more sense for the Bubble with the way that the season was suspended, but we'll see how it goes this year. I hope they make all the money they were hoping to make."
Hopefully next season the NBA can do away with the play-in tournament and let the dead rest. There's no need for teams disinterested in making the playoffs to play post-season basketball. Eight teams in each conference is already more than enough.