NBA keeping play-in tournament through 2021-22 season

The NBA’s postseason play-in tournament is here to stay, for at least one more season.

On Friday, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association reached an agreement to extend the play-in tournament through next season, according to ESPN. The NBA’s board of governors are expected to approve the decision in August.

The NBA first implemented the play-in tournament last summer upon resuming the 2019-20 season after a four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament remained in place for the 2020-21 season, including the Nos. 7 through Nos. 10 seeds in each conference.

The innovative format drew criticism from several of the league’s top players, most notably LeBron James, who declared that the tournament’s creator “needs to be fired” in May. After finishing the regular season seventh in the Western Conference, James’ Lakers competed in this year’s play-in tournament, defeating the Warriors to remain the seventh seed come the playoffs.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors plays defense on LeBron James
LeBron James and Stephen Curry proved the NBA’s play-in tournament can work.
Getty Images

League officials hoped that the play-in tournament would discourage teams from tanking, since it increased one’s chance at making the playoffs by incorporating more teams. The format was also seen as a potential mechanism to retain fan engagement, particularly amongst poor-performing teams.

Fans seemed to greet the format with enthusiasm; the Lakers-Warriors play-in game on May 19 notched 5.62 million viewers, at the time becoming the most-watched NBA game on ESPN since 2019.

On the flipside, when the Warriors lost in their second play-in game to the Grizzlies, the NBA lost one of its biggest draws in former-MVP Stephen Curry. Under the previous playoff format, Curry and the Warriors would have remained in the field as the eighth seed.

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