Playoff Reform Needed
The NBA playoffs are beginning to become as much of a joke as college football’s BCS system. They changed their playoff policy a few years ago, making the three division winners from each conference the top three seeds automatically. It seemed like a good idea at first, awarding teams for finishing first in their division, but it has challenged the legitimacy of the league’s postseason.
This year Dallas, who had the second-best record in the Western Conference, entered the playoffs as a number four seed because they shared the Southwest division with the 63-19 Spurs. This gave Memphis, the West’s fifth seed, a match-up with the second-best team in their conference and an early ticket home.
The division-winner seeding gave Denver the third seed, even though they tied with Sacramento for the conference’s seventh best record. A loss to Memphis on the second-to-last night of the season assured the Clippers of the sixth spot and a date with the third-seeded Nuggets.
The Clippers, a better team by record, easily disposed of the Nuggets, the better team in regards to seeding. In last years playoffs the Pacers, the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed, eliminated the Celtics, the third seed by virtue of winning the dismal Atlantic division.
That gives the third-seed a fifty percent success rate over the last two seasons.
Another problem with the playoffs is their length. The playoffs began in mid-April and won’t conclude mid-June. That’s two whole months of playoff basketball in relation to a regular season that lasts a little more than five months. That’s much longer postseason than either the NFL or MLB.
Not only are the playoffs long in comparison to the regular season, but they stretch the entire season out to almost eight months. Including training camp and preseason, a team that is lucky enough to make it to the Finals gets only a little more than two months off.
I’m not complaining, I’ll take all the NBA basketball Commissioner Stern will give me, but something has to be done.
I’m proposing that the league allow twelve, not sixteen teams, to qualify for the postseason. This will do wonders, but for starters it will increase the quality of basketball played in prime time.
Some critics of the NBA’s playoff bracket want to do away with separating the East and West until the Finals, but I’m not one of them. Twelve playoff teams would mean six in each conference.
The winners of each division would still be awarded by making the playoffs, but they will not automatically be given the top three seeds. That allows for three ‘wild card’ teams to make it from each conference. In order for both the bracket to work, and to award teams for finishing with the best record in their conference, the two teams with the best regular season records will receive a free pass into the second round.
The remaining four teams in each conference would be the three through six seeds. As in the current bracket set-up, the third seed would play the sixth seed and the fourth seed would play the fifth seed.
The first overall seed in the conference would await the winner of the four-five match-up, which leaves the winner of the three-six series for the second overall seed. That would assure that the top two teams in each conference couldn’t meet until the Conference Finals.
I would also change the first round back to the best-of-five format, and make the same change with the second round as well. That would shorten the playoffs by a few weeks, and add to the excitement by giving the underdog teams more of a chance to upend a title contender.
I know my suggestions could be confusing so here’s how this postseason would have looked if my playoff bracket had been used:
Eastern Conference – (1) Detroit and (2) Miami have byes. (3) Cleveland would play (6) Indiana, while (4) New Jersey would battle (5) Washington.
As you can see New Jersey may have won their division, but Cleveland had the better record so they get the third seed. That’s the only difference from the actual playoff seeding, aside from the fact that the Pistons and Heat receive byes.
Western Conference – (1) San Antonio and (2) Dallas have byes. (3) Phoenix would play (6) Denver, while (4) Memphis would battle the (5) Los Angeles Clippers .
The West was affected a great deal more than the East using my format. Dallas, rather than entering as the fourth seed, earns a bye for having the second-best record in their conference. Meanwhile, Denver the winner of their division falls all the way to the sixth seed, and wouldn’t have even qualified for my bracket had they not finished atop their division.
It’s not without fault, but it favors the better teams a little more, and doesn’t reward teams for winning their division despite how mediocre it can be. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed this years’ first round, which some are calling the best ever, but I’ve felt these changes have been needed for quite some time.