The Phoenix Suns will have a high stakes game to look forward to in the month of December, when they take on the Los Angeles Lakers in the quarter-finals of the NBA's inaugural in-season tournament. Win that, and they'll book themselves a trip to Las Vegas for the Final Four style weekend.
This tournament wasn't high on the priority list to start the season for the organization, but any time you are three games away from lifting a trophy and winning some money, it is an opportunity to be taken seriously. Credit must go to the league as well, they had an idea for what this could look like, and have executed their vision well.
The NBA is sure to tweak this experience to make it better in the coming years - some of those garish court designs need to be toned down a bit - but all in all, it has been a success. Devin Booker, who rolled his ankle in the team's recent loss to the Toronto Raptors, gave his own thoughts on the tournament to this point, when asked about it by Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, a must follow for all Suns fans out there.
"I’ve seen teams upset about it, I don’t know why. I’ve seen players upset about it, I don’t know why. I mean, honestly, I wish every game was like that where you play until the end, and it wasn’t viewed as disrespectful. Just high competition."- Devin Booker
Booker's comments on the games display the kind of mentality that has seen him make it all the way to the NBA Finals in the past. It is also the reason why he was so keen to return to the game in Toronto after rolling his ankle, although saving Booker from his own competitive nature is nothing new for this franchise. That mindset has also allowed him to become one of the top point guards in the league this season.
Booker didn't stop there though, and in the same interview with Rankin, he really hit the nail on the head with how all teams should be looking at these games.
A different approach required when playing in the tournament, especially during pool play when point differential is an important factor. The Sacramento Kings for example being in the position that they could afford to lose a game to the Golden State Warriors and still make the last eight, but only if it was by fewer than 12 points. As it was they ended up winning by one point anyway.
"If everybody’s under the same impression that you’re playing until the end, then it’ll never be a problem."- Devin Booker
One of the clear issues the in-season tournament has at this point is the fact that - on the last day of group play - not all of the games tipped off at the same time. Booker wasn't asked about this, and it is clearly done so as to get two games on national television on the one night, but it does give the teams who play last an unfair advantage.
They know exactly what they have to do in order to qualify. This is different to competitions in Europe for example, who by and large all start at the same time on the final day so as to not given one side an advantage. Really though this just proves Booker's point - take care of business and be ruthless in how you do it, and then what unfolds will always be in your hands.
The Suns will travel to Los Angeles on Tuesday to take on the Lakers for a spot in the last four. They have matched up twice already this season, with the Lakers winning on both occasions. Any chance the team has of turning that around surely depends on if Booker can join Kevin Durant in suiting up for that game.