Trail Blazers Announce In-Season Tournament Schedule
As part of the NBA's newest venture, Portland will play four games in November that are designated as tournament games.
The NBA’s introduction of the long-buzzed-about In-Season Tournament this summer aims to shake up the early part of the regular season and make those games feel more impactful. It remains to be seen whether it will be successful to that end. One thing it does do already: helps the league milk the rollout of the 2023-24 regular-season schedule.
Normally, the schedule would be released all at once around this time of year (bits of it, like opening night and the Christmas Day schedule, started to leak out last week). But the In-Season Tournament allows the league and its stakeholders to get a whole extra day of content in the most dead part of the news cycle.
Today, the first phase of that rollout began, with the tournament schedules for all 30 teams, including the Trail Blazers, being announced in a TV special on ESPN. That amounts to four of the 82 games on the schedule, with two more still to be determined and, for the two teams advancing to the finals, eventually an 83rd game.
The remaining 76 games for each team will be announced later this week, which means there will be new stuff to talk about for a few days while we wait for the resolution of the Damian Lillard trade request saga that doesn’t appear close to any kind of ending.
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Throughout the month of November, every Tuesday and Friday (with the exception of Election Day on Nov. 7, which is a league holiday) will be designated as a “Tournament Night,” with all games played on those days counting for both the regular-season standings and the group stage of the tournament.
Portland’s group, which was drawn within the Western Conference based on win-loss record from last season, consists of Memphis, Phoenix, Utah and the Lakers.
Here is the Blazers’ tournament schedule:
Friday, Nov. 3: vs. Memphis (7 p.m.)
Tuesday, Nov. 14: at Utah (6 p.m.)
Friday, Nov. 17: vs. L.A. Lakers (7 p.m.)
Tuesday, Nov. 21: at Phoenix (6 p.m.)
The team with the best record in each of the six groups, plus one “wild card” team in each conference, will advance to the knockout round, which will be played on Dec. 4 and 5. The winners of those games will advance to the Final Four in Las Vegas, with the semifinal games taking place on Dec. 7 and the championship game on Dec. 9.
On paper, Portland’s group is tough. But it’s hard to project how the In-Season Tournament will shake out because we haven’t seen it play out ever—and, obviously, we don’t know whether Lillard will be a Blazer once the season starts. As of now, sources say nothing as changed regarding trade talks with Miami or anyone else, meaning that there haven’t been any to speak of. Unless something changes, he may be on the roster on opening night, and if he is, all indications are that he will play rather than sit out.
If Lillard is in Portland, they can absolutely win enough of these games to make it to the knockout round. Memphis will be without Ja Morant during this time period as he serves his 25-game suspension for flashing a gun on Instagram in May. The Lakers and Suns are both contenders, but with aging, oft-injured stars, they may decide not to go all-out for the tournament and save themselves for the actual playoffs, which Portland has little chance of making. The Blazers’ best chance here may be simply caring about it more than anyone else in the group. Utah is in the same boat.
Will this work? Will people—players and fans—be invested? Who can say? But for teams that don’t have much of a shot at competing for an NBA championship, like the one you subscribe to read about here, it’s potentially something to get invested in.
(And, yes, if the Blazers make it to the Final Four, I will travel to Las Vegas to cover it. Consider signing up for a paid subscription to support that and other travel during the season.)