The NBA season now comes down to the final two weeks. And that is exactly what the league wanted.
Between the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers, there is virtually a deadlock for seeds five and six in the Western Conference. And in a typical season, seeding mattered when teams hunted a favorable first-round matchup or needed homecourt. Now, seeding matters because only the top six teams are guaranteed a playoff spot.
That is what makes this three-way tie so unique. One of these teams is not like the other. And that team is the Los Angeles Lakers, the defending NBA champions.
So it wasn’t surprising when LeBron James levied slights at the dynamic of the NBA play-in tournament. He stated that whoever came up with the idea “should be fired.”A bit dramatic wouldn’t you say? The complaints had a similar ring to when Luka Doncic and Mark Cuban questioned the legitimacy of a play-in tournament as well. And much like those complaints, LeBron’s will fall on deaf ears.
This is exactly what the NBA dreamed of when it came up with the idea of a play-in tournament. Playoff hopes aren’t locked come late April. Late season load management seems to be a thing of the past. And the only teams complaining are the ones that didn’t think they would be in this situation, to begin with.
Yes, the Lakers have been hit with injuries. So was Dallas. And the solution to the play-in dilemma is still so simple – win.
Dallas’ Missed opportunity:
So, here we are. Three teams jostling for two spots with eight or fewer games to go in the season.
And with all of this in the backdrops, that is why Dallas’ loss to Sacramento on Sunday was a devastating result. Each game feels like a playoff game when three teams have nearly identical records. And though Sacramento was out of the playoffs, they still foiled a Dallas opportunity to put space between themselves and the other two teams vying for the fifth and sixth seed.
Now, after a foiled opportunity, the schedule only gets tougher for Dallas. They play the Miami Heat on Tuesday, and then it’s the Brooklyn Nets at home on Thursday, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. In total, Dallas will play five games in seven days.
“It’s eight games left,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “They’re all very meaningful. Hopefully, we’ll get Tim [Hardaway] back. We’ll see where KP [Kristaps Porzingis] is and we’ll head to Miami and look to play better.
“We got to move on.”
Yes, Dallas, you do have to move on. With the end of the regular season closer than ever, missed opportunities need to be a thing of the past.
Feature image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports.