WASHINGTON (AFP) — The National Basketball Association In-Season Tournament, a new 30-team event with a World Cup-style format, debuts Friday with players chasing a new title even as they continue the sixth-month regular season.
NBA clubs were drawn into six groups of five teams and each team will play a total of four tourney games on Tuesdays and Fridays in November to decide six group winners plus two wildcard qualifiers for the quarter-finals on 4 and 5 December.
The NBA’s final four teams will go to Las Vegas for semi-final games on 7 December and the championship contest on 9 December.
The 67 games of the tournament, except for the championship match, will all count in the regular-season standings.
“With the addition of this new marquee event on the NBA calendar, we’re focused on providing players and teams with another competition to win, engaging fans in a different way and driving further interest in the early portion of the regular-season schedule,” NBA executive vice president Joe Dumars said.
Reactions have been mixed, with Memphis guard Marcus Smart declaring of the NBA Cup: “Being completely honest, nobody cares about it. It’s the big one that we care about.”
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says it’s another outlet for ultra-competitive players and notes it could provide a hint of things to come when the NBA playoffs begin in April.
“It’s exciting for everybody,” Popovich said. “All these guys are very competitive… if you put something out there like this, it just adds to that competitiveness and really signals what might happen toward the end of the season.”
Teams will wear special tournament uniforms and play on uniquely painted courts for those games in a bid to spice the early season, especially for clubs that might not contend over a full campaign but could get hot for a month.
“Traditions aren’t created overnight,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.
The event will likely be a boost for rights fees when new telecast contract talks begin.
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Players Nikola Jokic of reigning NBA champion Denver and Giannis Antetokounmpo will be on the court for the opening night of tournament competition.
Friday’s group-stage openers find Dallas at Denver, Golden State at Oklahoma City and Memphis at Portland in the West with New York at Milwaukee, Washington at Miami, Brooklyn at Chicago and Cleveland at Indiana in the East.