Friday night is the second night of the NBA’s in-season tournament. If you forget, the flashy dishes will quickly remind you, as intended.
But if the courts’ hideous appearance is the biggest problem with the NBA’s break from tradition, Adam Silver should be smiling.
I was admittedly skeptical of the suggestion of incorporating a low-incentive soccer tournament into the regular season, but the results of last week’s opening games showed the potential of an idea that will eventually seem overdue.
Every sport except football suffers from a glut of regular season games. In return, interest rates fall. That changes in the playoffs, the place where legacies were formed.
The idea that a player would be allowed to pursue Cal Ripken Jr. — only one MLB player has appeared in more than 550 consecutive games since the Orioles legend ended his 2,632-game streak — is unthinkable. It now looks like a misprint that Michael Jordan, then in his mid-30s, played every game on the Bulls’ second three-pointer.
On the first night, the NBA tournament felt different. When the final four teams reach Las Vegas on December 7 – the ideal venue given its history of high-profile events and special flair – it will be more attractive than most regular-season games this century. When we look at it in ten years, it will feel meaningful.
The first steps were promising. One could see an increase in competitiveness in a league where defeats are common. Five of seven games – all of which count towards the regular season standings – were decided in the last minute.
Several exciting duels (Lakers-Suns, Celtics-Nets, Clippers-Mavericks, Thunder-Kings, Timberwolves-Spurs) will take place this evening.
The league will tinker with the tournament in future seasons.
Additional incentives could be added (extra money, automatic playoff spots, etc.). It could be pushed deeper into the season. It might be easier for casual fans to follow the game if no non-tournament games are scheduled between group games.
Some gimmicks work. James Naismith died long before the advent of the shot clock and the 3-point shot. The NBA’s recent All-Star format failed, Silver admitted, leading to a return to the traditional East-West game this season.
But the tournament is a worthwhile experiment. There is no downside. The widespread aversion to change is being overcome.
Traditions are born every day.
The Eli Manning era wasn’t as special as many remember. During his 16-year career, the Giants hit .500 (117-117) in games Manning started. His only playoff wins came during his two Super Bowl runs.
But the Giants never had to think about who played behind him. Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive starts – which was ended in 2017 by Ben McAdoo to give Geno Smith a one-game audition – ranks third among quarterbacks in NFL history.
When this season is over, Daniel Jones will have missed 20 of 67 games since Manning’s departure after the 2019 season.
On Sunday against the Cowboys, Tommy DeVito will become the first undrafted quarterback to start for the Giants in 19 seasons (Kurt Warner). The rookie is the main reason the Giants are the biggest underdog (+16.5) the NFL has seen this season.
But DeVito has little chance of surpassing some of Jones’ replacements over the last four seasons:
Colt McCoy (2020): Due to Jones’ hamstring injury, McCoy made two starts late in the season. He threw for 105 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a win over Seattle, but failed to lead the Giants into the end zone in a 20-6 loss at Cleveland two weeks later.
Mike Glennon (2021): After Jones’ season-ending neck injury, Glennon lost each of his four starts. He threw four touchdowns and 10 interceptions that season and hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since.
Jake Fromm (2021): Glennon’s successor fared even worse. Fromm, a 2020 fifth-round pick, went 6 of 17 for 25 yards and an interception in his first start before being subbed out for Glennon. Two weeks later, Fromm threw for 103 yards with a touchdown, two interceptions and a lost fumble in a 22-7 loss to Washington. The Commanders’ current backup quarterback has not yet appeared in the game again.
Davis Webb (2022): Five years later, Webb got his chance. The Giants’ 2017 third-round pick got his only NFL start in last season’s regular-season finale as Jones took a break for the playoffs. Webb threw for 168 yards passing with two total touchdowns in the 22-16 loss to the Eagles. Webb, 28, is now the Broncos’ quarterbacks coach.
Tyrod Taylor (2023): The veteran provided stability in Jones’ absence. Although his inexcusable noise at the 1-yard line before halftime – and his incomplete pass from the 1-yard line on the final play of the game – cost the Giants the victory at Buffalo, Taylor bounced back with 279 yards passing and two touchdowns to win over the Giants Washington. The following week, Taylor suffered a potentially season-ending rib injury against the Jets.
College football’s stretch run
No team has ever made it into the College Football Playoff with two losses. In all likelihood, it won’t happen until next season – when the 12-team field debuts – leaving 11 contenders for this season’s four playoff spots.
Expect the list to shrink on Saturday:
No. 3 Michigan (9-0) and No. 10 Penn State (8-1): The sign-stealing scandal shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the Wolverines have been the most consistent team in the country. Penn State is Michigan’s first opponent this season, but the Nittany Lions have a lot more to prove. Under James Franklin, Penn State is 3-16 against top-10 teams, including a 2-7 mark when the Nittany Lions are also ranked in the top 10.
Miami (6-3) at No. 4 Florida State (9-0): Don’t expect a repeat of the Seminoles’ 45-3 win last season. In six of the eight meetings so far, the battle between the rivals was only decided by five points.
No. 18 Utah (7-2) vs. No. 5 Washington (9-0): Heisman front-runner Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies are playing with fire and have narrowly avoided three straight losses since their emotional win over Oregon. Home field could be the difference for the Utes, who have the Pac-12’s best defense and the last two conference championships.
No. 9 Mississippi (8-1) vs. No. 2 Georgia (9-0): The Bulldogs have won 26 straight games and haven’t lost at home since 2019. Lane Kiffin is 2-14 against top 10 teams. However, Georgia has suffered second-half deficits against three teams this season, and the Rebels pose their toughest test yet. Ole Miss’ top-20 offense faces a defense without All-American linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson .
USC (7-3) at No. 6 Oregon (8-1): The Ducks are the big favorites in the duel between the two most dangerous teams in the country. Oregon shouldn’t have any problems against a defense that has allowed an average of 44.2 points over the last six games, but the Trojans have Caleb Williams. Therefore, the Trojans always have hope.
What we read 👀
🏈 Nathaniel Hackett’s job is to run the Jets’ offense, but Andrew Crane notes that not even the team’s offensive coordinator can identify what his unit does particularly well.
🏈 Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made it clear to Xavier McKinney that his criticism of the coaching staff is “hurting the locker room,” writes Mark Cannizzaro.
🏀 Maybe we should all take it easy on Julius Randle, who Stefan Bondy felt was desperate to play at the start of the season despite suffering from ankle pain.
🏒 The Rangers, hit hard by injuries, still managed to get past the Wild thanks to third-line goalie Louis Domingue. Mollie Walker has the details.
⚾ Anthony Volpe admits his first season was “frustrating,” writes Matt Ehalt, who also found out what the Yankees’ young shortstop plans to do about it.
⚾ Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio are in the mix to play third base for the Mets, but new team president David Stearns said both will need to improve their defense to win the job.