Sorry, LeBron. I Wanna See Russell Westbrook In the Play-In Tournament

Illustration for article titled Sorry, LeBron. I Wanna See Russell Westbrook In the Play-In Tournament
Photo: Will Newton (Getty Images)

OK, so maybe I was wrong.

Entering Monday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, the battered and bruised Los Angeles Lakers (37-28) were clinging for dear life to the 6th seed in the Western Conference. A win would propel them to the 5th seed—and a likely first-round slobberknocker against either the Clippers, Nuggets, or Mavericks in the playoffs—while a loss would exile them to the 7th seed and invite all of the frustration and imminent doom that comes with competing in the league’s new play-in tournament.

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At 36 years old, LeBron James isn’t exactly keen on the idea of playing any more games than he has to. So the thought of completing the regular season and earning a playoff seed, only to have to go to war with a team that didn’t even qualify for the playoffs (which, in this case, is looking like the Golden State Steph Currys or the Spurs) before the playoffs even begin sounds like some absolute bullshit.

I don’t blame him.

Shit, if I was a four-time NBA champ who was trying to run it up at least one more time with a bum ankle before calling it a career, the last thing I’m trying to entertain is some twisted hoops version of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. So when asked about the possibility of doing exactly that, King James sounded off.

“It doesn’t matter at the end of the day if I’m not 100 percent, or close to 100 percent,” James told reporters. “It don’t matter where we land. That’s my mindset. If it happens we end up sixth or fifth, whatever the case may be, or we end up in the playoff, whatever that thing is. Whoever came up with that shit needs to be fired. But whatever.”

Sadly, the Lakers momentarily eluded their embarrassing 7th-seeded fate by pulling out a gutsy 93-89 win against the Nuggets, but you know who else won on Monday? The Washington Wizards.

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t particularly fond of Washington’s chances at looking like a competent team this season and said as much before it even began. Actually, I said a lot more than that when the Wizards had Uncle Phil toss fan-favorite John Wall out the door in exchange for nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook back in December:

Westbrook just turned 32, and while he’s still an explosive scorer, his game is heavily predicated on his athleticism—the same athleticism that’s doomed to evaporate any day now. Add in the fact that he can’t shoot for shit and is the proud owner of one of the worst contracts in the entire league and it’s hard to rationalize why a team that’s in full rebuild mode would not only compromise its salary cap flexibility for eternity but pay good money to see a nigga show up to work dressed like this just to lose games. The Wizards could’ve done that shit for free.

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I was sorta kinda almost right.

Washington did look like hot fecal matter for the first quarter of this season. But due to fatigue from the shortest off-season in NBA history, COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the entire league, and a major uptick in season-ending injuries, the rest of the NBA looks like hot fecal matter, too. And now that more and more players are getting vaccinated and the season is finally getting into a bit of a groove, just in time for the home stretch of the regular season, if you hold them up to the light at the right angle, the Wizards actually don’t look that bad.

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Powered by Bradley Beal and the same Russell Westbrook that I had some rather unkind things to say about in a past life, the Wizards (30-35) have been fucking shit up for a minute now and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. Hell, on Monday night, Westbrook went Super Saiyan and shit all over the Pacers with the type of 21-rebound, 24-assist performance you’re only supposed to have in NBA2K.

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Yet despite Westbrook playing out of his damn mind, if the regular season ended today, the Wizards would be the 10th seed in the East and could only make the playoffs through the bane of LeBron James’ existence: the play-in tournament.

Ummm...Have you seen who the 7th and 8th seeds are in the East? Do you know how thoroughly entertaining it would will be to watch Jason Tatum or LaMelo Ball or Caris LeVert attempt to stave off Westbrook and company? Or to watch Chef Curry fight tooth and nail to deny LeBron entry to the postseason with next to no help?

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The pandemic has stolen unspeakable amounts of joy, but this play-in tournament has the very real potential to restore at least some of it—and become the second greatest gift ever. (That MC Hammer doll I got for Christmas in ‘91 remains the undisputed champ, though.) So, sorry LeBron—and Mark Cuban—I can’t rock with y’all on this one.

Bring on the play-in and may the best man win.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for y'all to stop putting sugar in grits.

DISCUSSION

The play in sucks. If you really want to improve The NBA Playoffs please make the first round best of 5 again. Some of the best series of all time were the first rounders. Bernard King against The Pistons in 84. MJ hitting the shot against Cleveland in 89. Bird & Chuck Person in 91. The Suns being pushed to 5 by The Lakers in 93 and of course Nuggets-Sonics in 94. Do the right thing Silver.