The inaugural NBA in-season tournament has yet to gain full traction among its target audience entering the final week of pool play. The players know the feeling.
A sleek court is one thing. Slick is another.
Boston guard Jaylen Brown slipped twice on the specially designed Scotiabank Arena floor in the final minutes of the Celtics’ 108-105 victory at Toronto on Friday, the second he said leading to an injury.
“I might have strained my groin a little bit,” Brown told reporters after the game. “The court was just slippery all game. As players, we are here for the in-season tournament because it is going to generate revenue, excitement, competition, etc.
“But we have to make sure the floor is safe to play on. We can’t put players out there and risk their health. I thought the floor was kind of unacceptable. Guys were slipping all over the place, not just me.”
Brown is not the first to voice concern, but his critique carries weight, inasmuch as he is the vice president of the National Basketball Players Association.
For the tournament, the NBA opted against traditional hardwood surfaces for a gaudier, painted look that each team uses for its two home games. The design accentuates the NBA Cup logo at center court and in the painted areas underneath the basket. The court is oriented horizontally, for the TV audience.
The new Dallas court was used only once before it was retired because of a “manufacturing issue.” Mavericks’ star Luka Doncic also expressed frustration with the Smoothie King Center court in New Orleans after a 131-110 loss to the Pelicans on Tuesday.
“I think the court today was really bad,” Doncic told reporters. “It was really slippery, and in some places the ball didn’t really bounce. If we’re going to have these courts, we got to make sure that it’s a stable court so we can play on it.
The NBA had not addressed the issue before the final two days of pool play, which are Tuesday and Friday.
The league reported last week that tournament viewership on ESPN was up 55 percent versus “comparable windows” last season, to an average of 1.7 million viewers per.
League-wide attendance has been mixed, but the in-house numbers generally have followed the pattern normally seen in this co-called dead period of the season, when college and NFL football is in crescendo and college basketball is underway.
Of the 37 in-season tournament games played through Nov. 17, 15 home teams have drawn more their season average attendance and 16 have drawn fewer. Boston, Cleveland, Golden State, Phoenix and Utah (twice) announce the same sellout crowd for every game.
Crowds have increased in some spots as momentum has built. Charlotte announced an attendance of 19,258 for its 130-99 home loss to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard and Milwaukee on Friday, about 3,300 more than the average of its first five home games.
The Los Angeles Clippers outdrew their season average by about 1,500 in their first tournament home game, a 106-100 victory over Houston on Friday in which James Harden’s four-point play with six seconds remaining broke the Clippers’ six-game losing streak, five since they acquired Harden.
“I’m not one of those guys that are like, ‘I think it’s dumb,’ because I don’t,” Sacramento guard De’Aaron Fox said Friday. “I think it could be interesting for this league. Like I said, almost every league in the world does some type of in-season tournament, so I think it’s cool that the NBA is trying to implement it.”
Fox’s positivity was understandable. Not only did he score 43 point in the Kings’ 129-120 victory over San Antonio, but also the win pushed the Kings to 2-0 and the top spot in the Western Conference C group. The Kings have the sixth-best odds to win the NBA Cup before the final rounds are played Tuesday and Friday.
“It was a playoff mentality,” Philadelphia guard Danuel House said after scoring 14 points off the bench in the 76ers’ 126-116 victory over Atlanta on Friday.
Pool play concludes this week with five games Tuesday and the final 11 Friday. The Lakers, 3-0, are the closest to moving into the “knockout round” with a home game remaining against Utah. Boston, Indiana, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Sacramento are 2-0.
The top finisher in each of the randomly drawn three pools from each conference and the top second-place finisher from each conference will advance to the quarterfinals Dec. 4-5, to be played at the site of the higher finisher in group play. The semifinals and finals will be held at the T-Mobile Arena in Los Angeles on Dec. 7 and Dec. 9. All but the championship game will count in the regular-season standings.
Players on the winning team earn $500,000 apiece.
“That’s something that you can give to family members or whatever you plan on doing with it. I think that’s good motivation,” New Orleans forward Zion Williamson said.
Point differential will be used as tiebreaker to determine pool winners and second-place qualifiers, and some teams seem to care more than others. Milwaukee coach Adrian Griffin left his starters in the game late into the fourth quarter in Charlotte last Friday in order to build up the point differential in Eastern Conference Group B. The Bucks are plus-18, the biggest differential in the tournament and face the Heat (plus-6.5) in what could be the deciding game of the group on Friday.
New York coach Tom Thibodeau downplayed that after the Knicks’ 120-99 victory over Washington on Friday to even their tournament record at 1-1.
“I just want to make sure we have one more point than they do,” Thibodeau said. “In-season, out of season, any season, I love winning. That’s all that matters. They’re keeping score. Try to win the game.”