If you happened to tune in to an NBA game in November on a Tuesday or Friday night, you might have noticed that the court looked different — with every inch of wood painted, and a broad stripe running through the middle from baseline-to-baseline. The special paint jobs, as you probably figured out soon thereafter, are for the NBA’s new In-Season Tournament.
The league has added a new wrinkle to its early season by dividing its 30 teams into six groups of five and having them play a tournament that will culminate with a championship in Las Vegas on Dec. 9. The group stage of the IST, as it’s maybe not quite yet known, was woven into the regular season schedule in November, ending last Tuesday with the field winnowed down to eight teams that’ll play in the knockout rounds this week.
Modeled after cup competitions in European football, the IST is meant to add some spice to a sometimes bland stretch of the NBA calendar. At 82 games spread across seven months, the season can be a slog for players and viewers alike. For casual fans, it’s easy enough to wait until Christmas Day, when the league makes a tradition of scheduling five marquee games for national TV, to start paying attention. The mid-season tournament, in theory, gives them a reason to tune in sooner by adding what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calls " games of consequences.”