Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors face off in the first-ever Play-In Tournament involving the 7th seed.
The winner plays the Suns on Sunday to start a seven-game first round series. The loser has to come back Friday night to earn the right to play the Utah Jazz in a first-round series. On Friday, they play the winner of a one-game play-in between the 9th and 10th seeds (Grizzlies-Spurs) in the West, which also occurs tonight before Lakers-Warriors.
And if the loser of Lakers-Warriors loses AGAIN, they go home for the summer. They’re done. Kaput.
What the heck is a Play-In, you ask?
Simply put, it’s what you wish had been in place for the last 13 years. Without this play-in format, your Suns have made the playoffs only one measly time in the last 12 years.
With this play-in format, they’d have had a two-game chance to make the playoffs SIX more times!
- Finished 9th in 2009 (2 games back of 8th)
- 10th in 2011 (6 gb)
- 10th in 2012 (3 gb)
- 9th in 2014 (1 gb)
- 10th in 2015 (6 gb)
- 10th in 2020 (1 gb)
Six times in 12 years they would have qualified for the Play-In.
The Play-in tournament pits the 7th and 8th seeds against each other in a one-game fight for the 7th seed, which is what’s happening tonight in Warriors-Lakers. The 7th seed then plays the 2nd seed (Suns) in the first round.
Now this is where it gets interesting. The Play-in tournament also pits the 9th and 10th seeds against each other, which is what’s happening tonight in Spurs-Grizzlies, the winner getting a one-game play-off for the 8th seed against the loser of the 7/8 game.
In this scenario, your Suns would have played that 9/10 game SIX times in the last 12 years, with a chance to earn the 8th and final true playoff spot if they could win two straight games.
Let’s take the 2020 Bubble for example. The 8-0 Suns were streaking. They would have had the chance to beat Memphis and then the Portland/Dallas loser to take that 8th seed for the Bubble-offs to face the Lakers in round one and send those other teams home.
Imagine that. Don’t you think the 2020 Suns could have beaten Memphis in the 9/10 game? I do.
And don’t you think the 2020 Suns could have beaten Portland or Dallas, who they’d clocked in the regular season, to earn that 8th seed and break the playoff drought? I do.
Next let’s go back to 2015, the site of The Unraveling. The beginning of the end.
Even after the trade deadline fiasco, Jeff Hornacek’s Suns were 38-33 in mid-March with 11 games to go. Just outside of playoff position. They fell apart. They began beating themselves from the inside out, falling further and further out of playoff position before giving up completely. They ended the season losing 10 of their last 11 games, finishing in 10th place with a 39-43 record and six games back of 8th.
If the Play-In had been in place as a carrot, they would have still had a chance to make the playoffs and likely, in my opinion, would have not lost 10 of 11 games. We might not have embarked on the long dark road that followed, or at least it might have been silver-lined with another playoff appearance.
Okay okay, I can see you’re sitting there right now going ‘Ewwwwww! You mean we might have kept the Morrii, Bledsoe and Brandon Knight after all????’
Let’s drop this one for now, and rewind to better times...
Now HERE is where it gets interesting.
The 2014 Suns (48-34) finished just barely outside the 8th seed. With the Play-in format in place, they’d have had a one-game showdown with the Wolves (40-42), and then a one-game fight with the Grizzlies/Mavericks loser for the 8th playoff spot. I daresay the Suns would have had a good chance to secure that 8th spot!
Imagine what might have changed had the 2014 Suns made the playoffs after all. Sure, they’d have yet another playoff loss to the Spurs (1st seed, 62-20 record) on the docket, but playoffs are playoffs and that would have been nice to experience.
Maybe if they’d made the playoffs in 2014, they would not have minimized Goran Dragic that summer and fall. Maybe Dragic would have made an All-Star team in Phoenix instead of Miami. Maybe maybe maybee...
The bottom line in all this is that the Play-In tournament is great for fans of teams that just barely keep missing the playoffs.
Of course, it will suck for those teams that finish 7th or 8th too. They no longer get a guaranteed drubbing to the 1st or 2nd seed unless they win a play-in game first. I can easily envision a Suns team that ran it back with Rubio, Oubre, etc. that would right now be sitting in 7th and all of us would terrified at the possibility of losing a one-game play-in to Stephen Curry of all people, and livid over the possibility to losing two straight and STILL not making the playoffs.
There you go, Suns fans. The good and bad of the play-in format.