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Tank You Very Much: Does Play-in Help Cure Losing?

Tight Playoff Race Gives Nearly Entire NBA a Shot at Postseason

The NBA will utilize its play-in system for the fourth time this spring (third straight in its current format). By simple math, we know that that means 20 teams will play at least one game beyond the regular season, but a quick glance at the playoffs shows that 26 of the 30 teams have a very good chance of making it at least that far.

Not all 26 teams will be playing their butts off just for a one-and-done scenario when they know they aren’t title contenders. But it stands to reason that a large percentage of them will recognize that the opportunity to make some postseason noise is a better one than something like a 4.5% chance at Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Looking a bit deeper at this might affect how you do some online gambling, so read on. Also, let’s check the latest NBA news, stats, injury report, and NBA lines. We’ve got plenty of NBA picks for you to consider.

No Tanks

If there aren’t any drastic changes to the current standings in the next couple of weeks, there are only four teams that have no realistic chance at a play-in spot. Charlotte, Detroit, Houston and San Antonio all entered Tuesday’s action separated by 1½ games, but as a pack they are separated from the fifth-worst team (Orlando) by 6½ games.

Therefore, barring a massive run by one of these teams or some big slumps by a few teams directly in front of them, they will own the four worst records in the NBA. The three worst marks have an identical 14% chance of getting the No. 1 draft pick and the fourth-worst has a 12.5% chance. Basically, there’s not much of a difference once you’re in that bottom four.

So, we’re sitting here on Feb. 7 and with near certainty can say that Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, and San Antonio will all have either a 12.5% chance or a 14% chance of the No. 1 pick. The remaining lottery field of 14 teams has between a 10.5% chance and a 0.5% opportunity, with increments so small between them that aiming for a lesser spot through a tanking effort doesn’t guarantee many rewards, if any.

Parity Reigns Supreme

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was asked about this tanking issue recently. His team has been playing well and rising slowly up the East after a slow start but is in an absolute logjam that engulfs nearly the entire conference.

“Two years since the play-in was put in, right? I think that’s the biggest driver in this,” he said of the parity that’s also apparent in the West. “You just have far less teams tanking. Am I allowed to say that word? Come on, this happens in this league. But now you have a bunch of teams that probably weren’t necessarily thinking in either conference that they would have a chance of being in the play-in. At this point, you might as well go for it. The experience you get is just driving the competition level league-wide, and this is the way it should be.”

Consider a team like Orlando. You’ve put together a nucleus around Paolo Banchero and you’re playing very good basketball, 17-12 since early December. Because of a slow start, however, you’re still on the outside looking in as it pertains to the play-in games and you need to leapfrog two teams – Toronto and Washington – just to get there. It’s no sure thing, but if you’re trying to build a mentality around winning, then playing in significant games (to your team) in March and early April can go a long way.

The same goes for a squad like Oklahoma City, which is a game out of a play-in spot in the West. They’re incredibly young, talented and likely eager to take on a team like Denver in a best-of-seven instead of watching a lottery spectacle and just hoping they get a chance at a player that might or might not help the team in the future.

Bet Online With Confidence

In years past, you might’ve looked at an NBA betting preview in late March or early April involving a team on the periphery of the playoff race. With that “tanking” word in your head, you might’ve hesitated on a selection, not knowing if one of the teams was going to be all-in. There should be a greater degree of confidence in such wagers this season with so many teams playing important games as they relate to the standings.

The current lottery system isn’t perfect. The original one gave all the non-playoff teams an equal shot at that coveted ping-pong ball. But it’s still a pretty good deterrent. You throw away a bunch of games on purpose and you have a very slightly better chance at a coveted player, but no better than at least two other teams.

The worst teams often don’t even sniff the No. 1 pick anyway. New Orleans, tied for seventh-worst in 2019, won the lottery. Cleveland, ninth-worst in 2014, got Andrew Wiggins No. 1. They also scored Kyrie Irving in 2011 by virtue of owning the Clippers’ pick (the Clippers had the eighth-best chance at the top pick).

There are several other such instances.

Play the games with a purpose, build the winning mentality that young teams need, get experience trying hard late in the season, and let the chips fall where they may come lottery time.

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