The NBA’s In-Season Tournament starts Friday: Here’s what you need to know

The NBA’s In-Season Tournament starts Friday: Here’s what you need to know

Brett Dawson: Thunder general manager Sam Presti noted that it’s “a potential revenue tool,” presumably as part of the NBA’s next TV rights deal. That could be a potential boon to small-market teams like Oklahoma City.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Nov 2, 2023, 4:30pm CDT

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Nov 2, 2023, 4:30pm CDT

OKLAHOMA CITY — Mark Daigneault wanted to win the game Wednesday. He wants to win the game next Monday. 

The Thunder coach would win them all if he could. 

So when his team takes on the Golden State Warriors on Friday in the NBA In-Season Tournament, nothing much will change. 

“I think for a team like us, the value of it is any game that can add more noise and distractions that we have to kind of cut through the better,” Daigneault said Thursday. “So, TV games, In-Season Tournament — all that stuff prepares you. It strengthens your focus. You don’t strengthen your focus in a controlled environment, you strengthen your focus in a chaotic environment. And I’m excited about it for that reason, because the perceived stakes are higher and that’s good for us.”

Perceived stakes. Not stakes. 

Maybe at some point — should the Thunder advance to the elimination stage of the event, for example — the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament will mean a little something more to players and staff. 

But here in Group Play, not much is new. 

Except aesthetically. 

“I mean, outside of a new court, new jerseys, I don’t know,” guard Aaron Wiggins said. 

It’s true that the Thunder — and the Paycom Center — will look a little different Friday night when the Warriors come visit. 

That and the other things you should know about the In-Season Tournament: 

OKC’s fresh look

The Thunder will debut its City Edition uniforms against Golden State, and it’ll play on the first of two alternate courts this season at the Paycom Center. The second is a City Nights court that will match the new uniforms. 

Friday’s court is part of a league-wide initiative to differentiate the In-Season Tournament from other regular-season games. Each team will play on a court that prominently features the NBA Cup, the trophy for the tournament. 

The Thunder’s court is a blue-on-blue look that matches the in-arena signage style this season:

The courts are a way to make the tournament games pop. There’s no stoppage of regular-season games for the tournament. Instead, tournament nights will be Tuesdays and Fridays in November, sectioned off in an effort to draw attention to the event. 

Group Play comes first

The NBA randomly placed teams into groups of five based on win-loss records from last season. The Thunder is in West Group C with the Warriors, Kings, Timberwolves and Spurs.

Each team will play the other four teams in its group on “Tournament Nights” — Tuesdays and Fridays in November — with two games at home and two on the road. The Thunder’s In-Season Tournament schedule:

  • Friday vs. Warriors (7 p.m., Paycom Center)
  • Nov. 10 at Kings (9 p.m. Golden 1 Center, Sacramento)
  • Nov. 14 vs. Spurs (6:30 Paycom Center)
  • Nov. 28 at Timberwolves (7 p.m., Target Center, Minneapolis)

The team with the best record in Group Play advances to the next round. If two or more teams are tied after Group Play, a series of tiebreakers determines the Group winner. In order: head-to-head record in Group Play, point differential in Group Play, total points in Group Play and regular-season record in 2022-23. In the unlikely event there’s still a tie, one team will advance via a random drawing. 

Survivors advance 

The top team in each group will advance to the Knockout Round, as will two wild cards — the two best second-place teams from the Group Play round. The Knockout Rounds begin with quarterfinals Dec. 4 and 5 at team sites. 

The winning teams will advance to the semifinals Dec. 7 in Las Vegas. The winners of those two games meet in Vegas for the Dec. 9 title game. 

Whether this catches on is anybody’s guess. Daigneaut called the event “a great idea,” the phrase Thunder general manager Sam Presti used in his preseason news conference. 

Presti noted that it’s “a potential revenue tool,” presumably as part of the NBA’s next TV rights deal. That could be a potential boon to small-market teams like Oklahoma City. 

“I think the most important thing about the In-Season Tournament is not to judge it in its first year,” Presti said. “There will be people that don’t like it, are offended by it, think it’s horrible, and there will be people that love it. I think the key with this is, can we get a 12 year old somewhere in the world hooked on the In-Season Tournament and say, ‘This is awesome, I grew up with it.’ Sometimes the things that we don’t like or we fear are just things that are unfamiliar to us.”

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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