The league is satisfied with the effect it has had in competitiveness as more teams are trying to get to at least the No. 10 seed in their conference standings. The tournament has helped deincentivize tanking, with only a few teams out of playoff contention with less than a month left in the regular season.
"Based on what we've seen in terms of team behavior the last few years—the competitiveness on the court and the competitiveness in the standings—we’re pleased with the early results of both the lottery change and the play-in tournament," said Evan Wasch, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball strategy and analytics.
The play-in tournament will take place right after the regular season, providing the opportunity for the teams seeded seventh through 10th to earn the final two spots in each conference. The winner of a game between the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds will earn the seventh seed. The loser of that game would then have to beat the winner of a No. 9 vs. No. 10 battle for the last playoff spot.
The changes give teams that finished outside the initial playoff spots a chance to play their way in with two consecutive wins.
There was a similar system last year inside the Orlando bubble, but it was limited to just one game as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies. A similarly expanded system would have provided an opening for the Phoenix Suns, which ended the year with eight straight wins and could have been a tough team to beat in the postseason.
There are once again intriguing stories this season, with the Washington Wizards currently on an eight-game winning streak to move into 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The Golden State Warriors entered Monday in 10th place in the West but are tied with the ninth-place San Antonio Spurs on winning percentage (.508).
Considering the production Stephen Curry has had this month for the Warriors, this is likely a team no one would want to count out. The Wizards could be equally scary with a backcourt led by Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.
As Beck noted, these type of teams might have already given up in past years and started focusing on the lottery odds.
While the changes have led to more exciting games, the downside is it also means more stress on the players during an already compressed schedule in 2020-21 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called the plan "an enormous mistake" earlier this month, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:
"The worst part of this approach is that it doubles the stress of the compressed schedule. Rather than playing for a playoff spot and being able to rest players as the standings become clearer, teams have to approach every game as a playoff game to either get into or stay in the top 6 since the consequences, as Luka [Doncic] said, are enormous. So players are playing more games and more minutes in fewer days."
The league will need to work out how to please everyone before solidifying this as a permanent event.