The Friday Five: 5 Modes to Play When You’re Short on Time

The Friday Five: 5 Modes to Play When You're Short on Time

Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five modes to consider playing when you’re short on time.

Look, we all love basketball video games. That’s why we’re in this community, whether we’re creating or consuming content. Most of us enjoy hitting the virtual hardwood as often as we can, but the fact of the matter is that we all have other responsibilities. Work, school, family, friends, partners, chores…there are times when we need to put the controller down, if sometimes reluctantly! When our gaming time is limited, we need to manage our minutes carefully. That includes everything from playing on shorter quarters, to sticking with a viable mode.

When you don’t have a ton of time throughout the week to play basketball games, then you may find yourself opting for modes that don’t require lengthy sessions to have fun and achieve a sense of completion. Similarly, there may be occasions where you have a small window of time – perhaps at the end of a long session – and feel like messing around on the virtual hardwood a little longer, without getting sucked into another full-length game. Fortunately, over the years we’ve had modes and mini-games alike that are appealing to dabble with when we’re short on time. Whether you’re a retro gamer or playing the latest release, consider trying out these modes!

1. Playoffs Mode (Rather Than a Full Season)

Playoffs in NBA Live 95 SNES

If you asked me to name a mode that’s somewhat overlooked, not necessarily the most popular, but we definitely miss it when it’s not available, my immediate answer would be a standalone Playoffs mode. Now, most of us who are or were franchise and season gamers prefer to play through the entire NBA calendar from opening night. We get all of the ups and downs of the season, and as the standings take shape, Playoff seeds are decided. As much as I love playing through seasons, it does take a while; especially if you prefer authentic quarter and season length settings. The second half of the season in particular can often drag, especially the final 20 games before the Playoffs begin.

So…why not immediately jump into the postseason? Obviously, this isn’t satisfying if you want a multi-season experience, but it’s perfect when you’re short on time. Set up your brackets however you like – if you’ve got a retro roster, there are scenarios galore here – and play for all the marbles! As I’ve said before, looking back, I wish I made better use of Playoffs mode as a younger basketball gamer. Although I don’t regret the Season of NBA Live 95 PC that my cousin and I chipped away at over the course of several school holidays, in hindsight, we should’ve just started a Playoffs game with an updated 1995 season roster instead. We could’ve easily finished that in a few days!

2. Fantasy Teams/Quick Pick Play

Fantasy Teams, Ideal For Gamers Short On Time (NBA Live 10)

Exhibition gameplay – i.e. the Play Now and Quick Game modes – is somewhat underrated in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong; I love sinking my teeth into a deeper experience! However, in recent years, I’ve really come to appreciate one-off games with appealing scenarios. Needless to say, a custom roster (makeshift or otherwise) can really enhance the experience, but the default lineups will work, too. If you really feel like shaking things up though, check out a title that has custom teams that you can quickly assemble. The seventh gen NBA 2K titles have some nifty custom team functions, but I’ve been particularly enamoured with Fantasy Teams in NBA Live 10.

Dee and I have put Fantasy Teams to great use in our Parsec sessions with NBA Live 10, but I’ve also enjoyed playing the mode solo. Any hoops title that provides custom teams or a fantasy team mode will allow you to set up some entertaining scenarios for exhibition matchups, without having to mess around with the rosters. Your favourite players, role players who are Virtual Hardwood Legends, wild and wacky lineups, even makeshift retro teams…there are endless possibilities! For the sake of accuracy when it comes to the makeshift retro squads, you may want to do some light roster editing, but otherwise it’s just a matter of assembling teams with the players on hand.

3. Freestyle Challenge

Slam Dunk Showdown in NBA Live 2005

NBA Live has produced the best rendition of the NBA All-Star Weekend to date, and I have no doubt that gamers around my age have many fond memories of it. That’s a great mode to revisit in NBA Live 2005 through 09, but it also had a spinoff mode that flies under the radar: the Freestyle Challenge. In the Freestyle Challenge, you go head-to-head against the CPU or another user in a split screen showdown, either in the Slam Dunk Contest or Three-Point Shootout. The dunking challenge requires you to perform enough tricks to hit the target score, while the three-point shootout is the best score out of 30 as usual. To that end, these games are over faster than the full contests.

That’s what makes them a great retro basketball gaming option if you’re short on time. Once again, I encourage you to enjoy the entire All-Star Weekend mode in those old NBA Live releases, but the Freestyle Challenge mini-games are good for some quick fun. It’d be laughable to suggest that we don’t have a bevy of modes and content to enjoy in NBA 2K nowadays, but I miss having mini-games like Freestyle Challenge in modern titles. They weren’t the most popular modes, and they weren’t necessary, but they were something to mess around with if you were short on time and wanted a change. The pressure of the dunk showdown is also great practice for the full event!

4. Blacktop

Blacktop Intro in NBA 2K14 PS4

I’m mentioning Blacktop, so I have to shout out NLSC alumnus JaoSming! In the past, I’ve admitted to overlooking/not spending much time with Blacktop. At the end of the day, I’m a bigger fan of the NBA aesthetic than streetball, and there have been plenty of other modes that held my attention. With that being said, in recent years, there have been times when I’ve fired up Blacktop in a couple of different NBA 2K titles to play some pick-up games. That includes setting up showdowns between 90s Legends at Rucker Park in NBA 2K6! Whether I’m using active players or some of my favourite Legends, I’ve enjoyed trading the virtual hardwood for the blacktop.

How about The Playground, a connected mode that’s also viable if you happen to be a MyCAREER gamer? Well, those games can be over quickly, but there’s always going to be a certain amount of waiting around to find a match, especially as people jump off of “Got Next” because they don’t like the look of their teammates. There’s also the inevitable toxicity of the online scene, which doesn’t seem to be getting any better. If you’re short on time, Blacktop facilitates games that can be set up, greatly enjoyed, and finished very efficiently. It’s also the only streetball mode in games that no longer have any online support, making it (for the most part) extremely retro gamer-friendly.

5. Triple Threat Offline in MyTEAM

Michael Jordan Imitates Spider-Man in NBA 2K23 MyTEAM

Speaking of pick-up style action, Triple Threat Offline has been one of my MyTEAM modes of choice since its inception. Comparable to a Blacktop or Playground game in length, it’s been extremely enjoyable when I haven’t had the time or inclination to play through a challenge in Domination. To that point though, it’s not the only quick mode of play in MyTEAM. Clutch Time is also an option here, as are some of the shorter Challenges. While various iterations of NBA Live Ultimate Team have been able to best MyTEAM in pack fairness and value, LUT  has, on the whole, been incredibly shallow compared to all the ways that we can play with our squad in NBA 2K’s mode.

The reason that I’m specifically suggesting Triple Threat Offline – apart from the fact that I’ve quite enjoyed it – is that it’s not only economical with your free time, but also potentially highly rewarding. As you rack up wins, you get more prizes. The vault openings can yield some great bonus rewards, though admittedly some paltry ones as well. I’ve also found it to be an efficient way of getting stats to level up Evolution cards, and complete items on the Agenda. And of course, unlike Triple Threat Online, there’s no waiting around to find an opponent. You’re obviously also avoiding the toxicity of the online scene, which is preferable whether you’re short on time or not!

What are the modes that you play in basketball games when you’re short on time, but need a virtual hardwood (or blacktop) fix? Let me know in the comments, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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