Sports

Analysis: The NBA In-Season Tournament is doing what it intended. Now things should heat up more

There was no shortage of reasons why the NBA In-Season Tournament was put together. And the benefits are already clear: ratings are up, people are talking about games before Christmas and some players say there's an extra energy in those contests.

That means it's working. And given that knockout-round spots are at stake starting this week, it's reasonable to think the interest will only keep growing.

“I was just interested to see how it would happen, how it would work,” Sacramento guard De'Aaron Fox said last week after his team moved to 2-0 in tourney play. “I'm not one of those guys who are like, ‘I think it’s dumb,' because I don't. I think it could be interesting for this league.”

Entering Tuesday, 37 of the 60 games in the group stage of the inaugural tournament have been played. (Another five will be played Tuesday.) Ratings are up; the games being shown on ESPN have gotten 55% more viewers than the ones in comparable windows got last year. It’s not exactly must-see-TV yet — those tournament games shown nationally are drawing about 1.7 million viewers — but better numbers are better numbers, which is the point.

Tell people that a game means more, and they’ll be more inclined to watch. It’s a certainty that some of the 10 games on Friday will have implications on who advances to the quarterfinals, and the same rings true for the final eight group-stage games that’ll be played on Nov. 28.

“Some of the courts look a little funky,” Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James said as the tournament was getting underway and players were getting used to it all — including the different paint schemes on the tourney-game floors, which has drawn criticism from players like Boston's Jaylen Brown and others over safety concerns. Slipping has been a factor in some games.

“But I think it’s great, in the sense for the league to spice things up," James added. "I did see some of the quotes from some of the players that some of the games felt like a playoff atmosphere, that type intensity. So, that's great.”

A reminder on how this all works — six group winners make the quarterfinals and two wild-card teams will reach that round as well. Those will be the two best second-place finishers, which probably means teams with 3-1 records and strong point differentials.

The quarterfinals are Dec. 4 and Dec. 5. The Final Four in Las Vegas has semifinals on Dec. 7 and the championship game — with $500,000 per player at stake, along with the NBA Cup — is Dec. 9.

Here’s a look at each group to this point:

EAST GROUP A

Standings: Indiana 2-0, Philadelphia 2-1, Cleveland 1-1, Atlanta 1-1, Detroit 0-3.

Tuesday games: Indiana at Atlanta, Cleveland at Philadelphia.

Friday game: Detroit at Indiana.

Nov. 28 game: Atlanta at Cleveland.

Outlook: The Pacers are in control here, holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Philadelphia. The Philly-Cleveland game may as well be an elimination game. Atlanta almost certainly has to win out. Detroit is eliminated.

EAST GROUP B

Standings: Milwaukee 2-0, Miami 2-0, New York 1-1, Charlotte 1-2, Washington 0-3.

Tuesday games: None.

Friday games: Miami at New York, Washington at Milwaukee.

Nov. 28 games: Charlotte at New York, Milwaukee at Miami.

Outlook: It'd be something if playoff rivals Miami and Milwaukee wound up meeting for first place in the group. New York probably needs two wins to have a chance. Charlotte needs a win and a whole lot of help. Washington cannot advance.

EAST GROUP C

Standings: Boston 2-0, Brooklyn 2-1, Orlando 1-1, Toronto 0-1, Chicago 0-2.

Tuesday game: Toronto at Orlando.

Friday games: Boston at Orlando, Chicago at Toronto.

Nov. 28 games: Chicago at Boston, Toronto at Brooklyn.

Outlook: Boston moves on with two wins; one may be enough, too. A 3-1 finish for Orlando could send the Magic through, since that would include a win over the Celtics. Brooklyn vs. Toronto may be an elimination game, and Chicago needs two wins to have any shot.

WEST GROUP A

Standings: Los Angeles Lakers 3-0, Utah 2-1, Phoenix 1-1, Portland 1-2, Memphis 0-3.

Tuesday games: Utah at L.A. Lakers, Portland at Phoenix.

Friday game: Phoenix at Memphis.

Nov. 28 games: None.

Outlook: Lakers-Jazz could decide the group; L.A. grabs a quarterfinal berth with a win. A Utah win creates a real chance of three teams finishing 3-1; the Lakers and Jazz would both have that record and Phoenix still can get there, and at least one of those teams wouldn’t move on in that scenario. Portland is still only alive mathematically, and Memphis is out.

WEST GROUP B

Standings: New Orleans 2-1, Denver 2-1, Houston 1-1, Dallas 1-2, Los Angeles Clippers 1-2.

Tuesday games: None.

Friday games: Denver at Houston, New Orleans at L.A. Clippers.

Nov. 28 game: Houston at Dallas.

Outlook: New Orleans has the head-to-head on Denver to lead the group, but if you like chaos, this is the group for you. If all this happens — the Clippers beat the Pelicans, the Rockets beat the Nuggets and the Mavs beat the Rockets — everyone finishes 2-2. Tiebreakers! Point differentials! A .500 team makes the playoffs!

WEST GROUP C

Standings: Sacramento 2-0, Minnesota 2-0, Golden State 1-1, Oklahoma City 1-2, San Antonio 0-3.

Tuesday games: None.

Friday games: Sacramento at Minnesota, San Antonio at Golden State.

Nov. 28 games: Golden State at Sacramento, Oklahoma City at Minnesota.

Outlook: Minnesota would win the group if it beats Sacramento; the Kings would be in control with a win there. Golden State needs two wins and help to take the group. Oklahoma City must win to keep its slim hope of the quarters alive, and Victor Wembanyama won’t be playing in Vegas next month with the Spurs already eliminated.

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

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