Nets forward Mikal Bridges shoots past Toronto Raptors forward O.G....

Nets forward Mikal Bridges shoots past Toronto Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby for a basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The In-Season Tournament began as a curiosity. A shiny new toy the NBA threw out to attract more attention, and perhaps more advertisers in its upcoming media rights negotiations.

The Nets were among those unsure what to make of it. But with Tuesday’s final round of group play, they see its potential going forward even as its changed the rhythm of the season’s first month.

“I think across the board, there’s a little hesitation, like with anything new. I always thought it would be a cool thing to do, man,” Cam Johnson said. “Something to bring into the season, shake things up, allow guys to play for something early, give the fans something that just looks different …I think so far it’s played out that way.”

The NBA’s no stranger to tinkering with tradition only for it to work out eventually. The play-in tournament had its skeptics entering the 2020-21 season but two seasons later, it’s become established to give more teams something to play for late in the year.

It’s too soon to know if the In-Season Tournament made a similar impact. But the Nets love what it’s brought on the court and if it sticks around, they’re fine with it.

“I like it. I feel like it's giving us a better competitiveness,” Day’Ron Sharpe said. “These games, I feel like guys are really going hard and we’re actually trying to win, and it's a game you got to play from start to finish. Even when you are losing by a lot, you still got to play defense.”

For Sharpe, in his third season, the financial incentives don’t hurt. He’s still on a rookie contract as is Cam Thomas, so an extra $500,000 for winning the NBA Cup wouldn’t hurt his pockets.

“I don’t know about the older guys but for the younger guys? Yes, we’re all trying to get that extra money,” Sharpe said. “That’ll help out a lot of us.”

The Nets are also aren’t worried about the issues that come up with point differential determining tiebreakers to advance to the knockout rounds. They knew they had to win Tuesday by at least 14 points while hoping the Celtics, Hawks and Knicks don’t win by larger margins.

It’s led to teams running up the score late, which raises questions of sportsmanship.

Even in the pros, there’s unwritten rules about scoring late in games - mainly in the final minute or so. Those have been dashed in tournament games as the Nets scored on a late layup in the final seconds of a 20-point win over the Magic.

Sharpe didn’t mind cause he knows every point matters. Johnson said the first priority remains to win and then let the score take care of itself.

“I wouldn’t say you’re going into the game worried about a point differential, we’re going to play basketball the way we play basketball,” Johnson said. “You end up winning the game by five, that means you end up winning the game by five. But I think there’s a respect for the game component where you’re not gonna go in there and mess with it.”

Johnson knows firsthand how an in-season change can benefit a team. In the 2020 bubble, he and Mikal Bridges played on a Suns team that won all eight games and it became momentum they used to reach the Finals in 2021.

As group play ends Tuesday, he has faith the In-Season Tournament’s been a win so far and things can only get better next week and when it returns next year.

“It’s cool and I think it’s going to heat up now. You’ll see it heat up in Vegas,” Johnson said. “See it heat up in the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games. So I’m looking forward to it.”

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