Look, the Play-in Tournament is stupid. Everyone pretty much knows it. The players certainly hate it, and even the ones who get to participate in it probably don’t like it much more. It’s manufactured drama. We’ve had 72 games this year, and in normal times we’ll have 82, and if you’re not in playoff spots by then — especially in the NBA where it’s not like a hot goalie or some weird luck with runners on base can goof you higher into the standings — then you don’t deserve to be. You are what you are, Bill Parcells. The NBA had to come up with something last year because of the abrupt end to the regular season, but that doesn’t mean it had to carry it over. And as we’ve seen in a couple of the play-in games, these are bad teams having at each other for bottom playoff spots. It’s not exactly riveting.
We know LeBron doesn’t care for it. And yet because he was in it, it’s going to stick around. Because the TV and league execs will point to LeBron vs. Steph and say, “Look! What drama! It’ll be like this every year! It’ll become an event!” Except it won’t. Look at what was needed to get prime teams like the Warriors and Lakers into this bullshit. Klay Thompson had to suffer a second consecutive season-ending injury. LeBron and Anthony Davis had to miss large chunks of the season through injury, a season that had barely any offseason before it to rest and recover, while these players had to work through the most mentally taxing and stressful playoff run imaginable before that. If the NBA tries to engineer that again… well, we’ll know they killed Kennedy, too.
But, with all that, they got an eventful game. I don’t know if it was “great” in the sense that the Warriors were pretty sloppy in the second half, and LeBron was still very much in injury recovery. But it was close, it came down to the last possession, and James even gave the league and TV partners a moment they can use to promote this dumbass occasion for the next few years:
Not that I don’t know what the stories coming out of this will be, because there has to be an anti-Lebron chain of thought in the morning. Simply because people have decided there has to be one for the sake of having one.
“BARF BARF … MJ WOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN IN A PLAY-IN GAME!” Except in his 18th season, he very well might have been, and we’ll never know.
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“MJ NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN ON A MINUTES LIMIT SNORT BARF!” Except in his 18th season we don’t even know if Jordan would have been able to walk. And on it will go. I seriously wish we could have seen MJ try to navigate the Disney bubble and how the league would have tried to cover up his late-night escape to the Daytona Card Room.
(Seriously, the need to sprint for MJ’s approval by criticizing LeBron by a swath of the media is the dork insulting the other dork in high school in the hopes the cool kid will like him phenomena run completely amok. Especially as we now know the “cool kid,” Jordan, is A. A raging asshole and B. Is never going to talk to these people!)
The NBA is never going to get something on the level of LeBron and Steph in a play-in game again, most likely. But because they got it once, we’ll never get rid of it.
Meanwhile, in the other winter sport, the playoffs finally kicked off North of the Border as the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers started their series. And there was something terribly awkward about it. After three days of watching at least partially-full arenas around the States, providing a true atmosphere and making it feel like playoff hockey again, a return to an empty arena with players milling around was jarring. It’s pretty funny to paint not just Canadian hockey teams, but the whole country of Canada, as the weird geek with no friends that can’t get anyone to come to their show, but it makes for uncomfortable viewing. Then again, it’s not 100 percent comfortable to see the nearly full house in Raleigh right now, so I guess six-of-one and all that. They’ll get there eventually.