The Portland Trail Blazers, who currently possess a 36-29 record, are locked into a heated battle for postseason positioning in the competitive Western Conference. This year’s race to the NBA Playoffs is extra spicy thanks to the league’s re-tooled format that features a play-in gauntlet for the final two spots.
While the NBA’s new format has generated criticism from LeBron James and Mark Cuban, The Athletic’s John Hollinger detailed how the play-in structure has added drama to the end of the regular season.
In his feature, Hollinger explained how the play-in has added two noteworthy wrinkles to the final weeks of the schedule. First, widespread tanking has been curbed. For the Blazers, Mavericks and Lakers, the final stretch of contests now contains added consequences for losses.
Meanwhile, teams in the fifth through eighth positions can’t rest on their laurels either. A veteran team in the Lakers’ position, for instance, might have been content to glide into the playoffs as the seventh seed and deal with whatever the bracket handed them. A play-in tournament shifts that logic quite a bit, both in terms of risk (they could end up in eighth or not in the playoffs at all) and schedule (the top six teams get a week off).
In regards to this week’s schedule, Hollinger made it a point to mention Friday’s contest between the Blazers and Lakers.
As a result, we’ll likely be seeing the best of Portland, Dallas and L.A. during the home stretch, as each tries to avoid being sent to the play-in bracket. Friday’s tilt between Portland and the Lakers now looks particularly juicy. Ditto for Miami and Boston in the East, where last season’s conference finalists are battling the Knicks (!) for the five through seven spots. Boston and New York play each other the last day of the season, a game that previously would have had “we just want to be healthy for the playoffs” vibes but now could be massively important.
The Blazers currently sit in the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference with seven games remaining. You can read Hollinger’s full feature at The Athletic (subscription required).