For years, a complaint casual fans had about the NBA was that too many teams make the playoffs, watering down the importance of the regular season.
So, this season, only six teams in each conference are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs via regular-season success.
And some big-time players aren’t happy about it.
Not surprisingly, they are players who could have to go through the play-in tournament that will determine the final two playoff spots in each conference.
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers said Sunday that whoever dreamed up the play-in tournament “should be fired.”
This came a couple weeks after the Mavericks’ Luka Dončić questioned the wisdom of forcing teams that finish seven through 10 have a set of games to decide which two of those four teams fill the No. 7 and 8 seeds.
There are eight games left in the regular season. Dončić’s Mavericks and James’ Lakers are tied with Damian Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers for fifth place in the Western Conference.
They all have 36-28 records. The chances of any of them moving up to No. 4?
The chances of them moving down to eighth?
Also virtually zero.
So three teams for two spots, with the odd man out joining three other teams who will have a three-game event to determine Nos. 7 and 8.
All of this makes the Mavericks’ loss Sunday to Sacramento all the more exasperating. It was their third loss in a 15-day span to the Kings, who can only dream about being in the play-in tournament.
Now, the schedule gets tougher with a trip to Miami and home games Thursday against powerful Brooklyn before Friday’s meeting with Cleveland wraps up 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.”
Move on to crunch time in the regular season. And this year, it’s crunchier than usual because of the specter of the play-in tournament.
All of which means, let the scoreboard watching ramp up.
Speaking of the Kings: It’s interesting that Sacramento went 3-0 against the Mavericks this season and all three wins were accomplished with different Kings on the court.
On April 18, De’Aaron Fox had 30 points and 12 assists and Terence Davis went crazy for 23 points off the bench in a 121-107 win.
On April 26, Fox wasn’t available, but Harrison Barnes had 19 points and Richaun Holmes and Tyrese Haliburton came up big.
Then, Sunday, Barnes was out and Haliburton left in the third quarter. What happened? Delon Wright, Marvin Bagley and Buddy Hield did most of the damage in a 111-99 win.
That’s eight different players who were responsible for the sweep.
“They’re a unique team, a lot of talented guys,” said Jalen Brunson. “It’s really hard to pinpoint what exactly it is. But the one thing I know for sure is we matched their energy a little too late. We had spurts where we matching energy, but part of that is on me coming off the bench and being a spark.”
Brunson, who had 17 points in 25 minutes Sunday, said that the bad matchup the Kings present has to be swept away, so to speak.
“As soon as you leave the building, don’t even think about it,” he said postgame. “You got to keep moving forward and just prepare for Miami.”
Injury update: The Mavericks, as Carlisle said, hope to get Tim Hardaway Jr. back for Tuesday’s game.
He was idle Sunday with right ankle soreness. Carlisle had said last week that he was looking for a spot to rest Hardaway, who had missed only one of the first 63 games.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks hope to know more about Kristaps Porzingis leading up to the game in Miami. He missed the two games over the weekend with right knee soreness.
Everybody else appeared to come out of the Sacramento game without health issues.
The Mavericks did not practice Monday after the back-to-back games.