The NBA recently announced the new in-season tournament schedule, along with the group pairings, and it has me pumped up.
The model of this tournament will feel a lot like the FIFA World Cup in how it could play out.
An in-season tournament has been rumored for years, and this is a very smart move by Commissioner Adam Silver to put some real juice back into the regular season.
I love the timing of it, starting in early November when football is still dominating the headlines and viewership. This is a fun wrinkle on a long NBA season that doesn’t begin to heat up til around Christmas time.
The WNBA has done a similar tournament, the Commisioner’s Cup, since 2021.
The games played in the NBA Cup will count as normal wins and losses for the regular season standings, which is enormous for buy-in for the fans and players.
The biggest critics of an in-season tournament in the past pointed to incentives and questioned why the players would care to play games that are meaningless to the ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship. Silver has found a sweet spot by making these games count as normal wins and losses and paying out the final four teams that make the semifinals. That includes $500,000 to each player on the first-place team.
There are 6 groups of 5 teams, split by Western and Eastern conferences. The Mavs will have a tough road to make it out of their group, including the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets, the Clippers, Pelicans, and Rockets. There’s a lot of star power in this group, and it all starts November 3rd with a trip to Denver. Dallas will play the other 3 group-stage games throughout the month. One team from each group will advance to the knockout round along with one extra team from each conference that has the best record that did not win their group, much like a “wild card” spot.
The quarterfinals will be played at the higher-seeded home arena, and then the final four will take place in Las Vegas at the T Mobile Arena in early December. That is an event I would like to see someday, the same for Summer League, and it feels like Commissioner Silver is setting up Las Vegas as a potential destination for an expansion team.
As for the Mavs’ chances of winning the inaugural NBA Cup, it’s a tough break that they drew Denver and have to play them on the road in game one.
However, I believe Luka and this squad will come out of the gates playing with a chip on their shoulder after last season.
If they have that motivation, I could see them beating Denver, who could be sleepwalking a bit after an off-season of celebrating their championship. We know Luka loves competing against the Clippers, and they notoriously often sit Leonard and George for load management reasons—the same for Zion and the Pelicans.
And then you have a young Rockets team wanting to prove themselves. It is a very intriguing group, but at the end of the day, it gives me the Nuggets to pull it out. Jokic doesn’t take nights off, and they have one of the best home-court advantages in the league.
All in all, this tournament should allow fans to stay engaged during a time when the league takes a backseat to football.