Mark Cuban calls NBA play-in games an 'enormous mistake' after voting to approve them

Jason Owens
·4 min read

Mark Cuban voted last offseason to extend and expand the NBA's postseason play-in format that made for high-stakes drama in the NBA bubble. 

Now he wishes he hadn't. 

'An enormous mistake'

Cuban — whose seventh-place Dallas Mavericks are vulnerable to the play-in games — called the tournament to qualify for the postseason an "enormous mistake." He made the comments to ESPN's Tim McMahon on Tuesday after Mavericks star Luka Doncic questioned the point of the play-in games Monday night.

"In a regular season of 82 games where we aren't playing 30-plus games in six weeks, then it might have been OK," Cuban said. "But the compression of so many games into so few days makes this an enormous mistake."

So Cuban appears to still support the play-in format for a normal 82-game slate. But he's not on board with it for this season's 72-game schedule that includes a higher frequency of games in a shorter time frame — even though he joined a unanimous vote among NBA owners to approve it. Per McMahon's reporting, Cuban made no mention of the fact that his Mavericks would be forced to play the qualifying games.

Luka: 'I don't see the point'

Doncic's criticism, meanwhile, was more to the point.

“I don’t understand the idea of a play-in,” Doncic told reporters Monday night. “You play 72 games to get into the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you’re out of the playoffs. So I don’t see the point of that.”

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban watches players warm up before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Mark Cuban wishes he had his vote back. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Play-in games are different from last season

This season's play-in format is expanded from last season's and requires teams seeded seven through 10 to play for the final two playoff spots in each conference. 

In the NBA bubble last season, the ninth-place team in each conference could force a play-in if it was close enough in the standings to the eighth-place team. The format made sense amid the upheaval of the COVID-19-altered schedule with teams playing unbalanced regular seasons.

In the Eastern Conference, the ninth-place Washington Wizards finished 7.5 games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic and didn't force play-in games. In the West, the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies finished a half game behind the Portland Trail Blazers, forcing a play-in series that Portland won. The race in the West arguably produced the most exciting basketball of the bubble, and the NBA decided to cash in on the opportunity by expanding it. 

Play-in could be fun ... but is it fair?

This year, the seventh- and eighth-place teams will play a single game with the winner clinching the No. 7 seed in each conference. The ninth- and 10th-place teams will also play a single game with the loser being eliminated. The winner of that game will then play the loser of the 7-8 game for the final playoff spot in each conference.

Like last season's bubble, the play-in has the potential to result in exciting, high-stakes basketball. Unlike last season's bubble, there's little competitive justification for it. 

Mavs would prefer to rest key players

The Mavericks have taken a cautious approach with center Kristaps Porzingis this season, resting him on back-to-backs in the aftermath of meniscus surgery. Doncic also takes an occasional rest day. But the Mavericks are facing a pressure cooker for the rest of the season thanks in part to the play-in format and will face difficult lineup decisions down the stretch. And Cuban wishes he had his vote back. 

"The worst part of this approach is that it doubles the stress of the compressed schedule," Cuban said. "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 six, since the consequences, as Luka said, are enormous."

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