Following the Lakers’ loss on Sunday night to the Raptors, which moved Los Angeles into a three-way tie with the Blazers and Mavericks in the Western Conference standings, LeBron James criticized the league’s new play-in tournament format.
“Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired,” James said.
With the defeat, Los Angeles fell to 36–28 and No. 6 in the standings due to losing the tiebreaker over Dallas and holding it over Portland.
New this year, being No. 7 doesn’t guarantee a team a first-round playoff series. Instead, the NBA will hold a play-in tournament in which the Nos. 7 and 8 teams face off and teams seeded Nos. 9 and 10 will also play.
The winner of the 7/8 game in each conference will earn the No. 7 seed. The loser of the 7/8 game will then host the winner of the 9/10 game in a play-in game, with the winner of that game in each conference earning the No. 8 seed.
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The Lakers have now lost six of their last seven games, including both games since James returned to the court.
James was held out the final six minutes, 42 seconds on Sunday after experiencing soreness in his right ankle. He finished the game with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 29 minutes.
James is not alone in voicing his recent criticism over the new format. In mid-April, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called the addition of the play-in tournament an “enormous mistake.”
The NBA board of governors, which includes Cuban, had unanimously approved the implementation of the play-in tournament this offseason.
James himself has also expressed varying sentiments about a possible format change. Ahead of the NBA bubble last summer, James floated the idea of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference being decided through a short series. Previously in 2018, though, James called the idea “wack.”
“You’ve got to earn your spot to be in the postseason,” he said. “No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny.”
However, as a function of flattening the draft lottery odds and implementing the play-in tournament, more teams remain in contention for a playoff berth.
“Twenty-four is the highest we’ve ever had, in the history of the league, with a month left,” Evan Wasch, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball strategy and analytics, recently told Sports Illustrated‘s Howard Beck. “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.”
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