From the outside, the 2020 start (and 2021-current-form-establishment) of the NBA’s Play-In Tournament would seem to present some challenges for broadcasters. It means they don’t know the identity of one of the teams in their first-round series until just days before. And while that was sometimes the case under the format before the Play-In Tournament, it was only the case when there was late uncertainty over seeding; by contrast, this year’s tournament meant that the quarterfinal opponents for the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks (who will host the Miami Heat at 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday on TNT) and Denver Nuggets (who host the Minnesota Timberwolves at 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT) weren’t known until their play-in games wrapped up Friday. On a media call Thursday, though, TNT analysts Reggie Miller (working Heat-Bucks) and Greg Anthony (working Timberwolves-Nuggets) said their preparation isn’t highly impacted by the late opponent selection, as they’ve studied both teams all year.
“I can only speak for myself, but having played against Greg, knowing how he prepares not only for college, but for the pros, we’re basketball lifers,” Miller said. “We live in front of a screen. All we do is watch basketball. So one game is not going to factor in ‘Oh my god, I don’t know who that eight seed is going to be.’ Because we know the teams, we know the players, we know the systems, we know the coaches. It doesn’t change your prep. Maybe in terms of calculating data it does, but in terms of the overall feel of who is going to be that No. 8 seed, it doesn’t change your prep whatsoever.”
Miller (seen at left above in 2022) said he was thoroughly prepared to cover both the Heat and the Bulls, regardless of who would face the Bucks.
“I’m starting with Milwaukee on Sunday, so not knowing whether it’s going to be Miami or Chicago, it doesn’t matter because I know both teams and how they approach things, having watched them all season long,” he said. “It doesn’t really change your prep at all, because Greg and I, we’re lifers. That’s what we do. We love to have played this game at a high level, and now we get the best seats in the house to call games. This is more of a thrill for us.”
Anthony (seen at right above in 2015) said the short turnaround prep is more of an issue in the NCAA Tournament, which he also covers for WBD Sports, as there are often more surprising teams making runs there.
“Yeah, this isn’t like college. Now, if you’d asked us that question about the [NCAA] tournament, you’d get a completely different answer. But we know these teams inside and out. There’s nothing I watch more than basketball. It’s just all you watch. You know the teams inside-out, you know their identity, you know how they play. There will be more prep, obviously, I’ll go look deeper into the individual games to get a sense of matchups. But ultimately, you know the stories, and you know the storylines, and you know the teams. Honestly, as a fan, I just want to know who’s in the playoffs? And I also want to watch the game.”
Anthony said he was interested to see who would come out on top in the Timberwolves’ clash Friday with the Oklahoma City Thunder (Minnesota won that 120-95), though, as he thinks either of those teams may give the Nuggets a battle. And he said that may especially be true given how long the Nuggets have been off, and how they haven’t known who to prepare for.
‘And in my case, I feel like that eight seed, they can be a challenger with Denver, because they both believe they can beat them. …Those eight seeds, they’ve played two games this week, they’re already in playoff mode. They’re going against the No. 1 seed that’s been off for about a week. And yeah, they’ve been practicing and working on things, but it’s almost a disadvantage if you’re the No. 1 seed, because you don’t know who you’re preparing for.”
“Whereas if you are Minnesota or OKC, all you’ve been thinking about is ‘Look, we’ve got two games with playoff-type intensity, where every play, every possession matters.’ That’s why I think a lot of times, these No. 1 seeds, they get off to slow starts in Game 1, because they’re not used to the intensity from these eight seeds or seven seeds who have already played a game or two. So they’re already at that level.”
We’ll see how the Timberwolves and Heat do against the No. 1 seeds. But it was certainly interesting to get perspectives from Anthony and Miller on preparing to call those games before knowing who would be in them.