5 Reasons the NBA Playoffs Should Be Changed (and 4 Reasons They Shouldn’t)
With Wednesday night’s games answering the lingering questions of the NBA playoff seedings, we found a number of strong Western Conference teams packing their proverbial bags while we see a number of dubious sub-.500 Eastern conference find their way into the dance. How the playoff picture shook out brought to a head a number of concerns that were festering among fans over the season. So now seems like as good a time as any to address the issues in the NBA playoffs. Fortunately, for the sake of this list, there are a few. But the merits of acting to correct those issues brings up their own issues. Whether or not they outweigh the needs of the near term are both subjective and divisive. So are the NBA playoffs best left alone? Let’s take a look at the arguments for and against tinkering the NBA playoffs.
And in doing so, we’ll resolve the issue forever and never leave it open to discussion again. I think we can all agree that this will be the definitive word on the issue. Right? Right?
(Seriously, if we get enough consensus here, I think we could submit this as a bulletproof outline of why we should AND shouldn’t mess with the current playoff system).
This season, we saw NBA stars speak out for a spell on why they think that the season should be shortened. They spoke to the increased likelihood of injury and the damage done by consecutive games and back-to-back-to-back. Well, the playoffs amplify those concerns, and at the end of the season, when players are playing through injury and fatigue to begin with. Considering the damage done to so many prominent players during this season, and the prevalence of USA National Team events, and you’ve got a pretty compelling health and safety reason for dialing back the playoffs a bit.
Should - 5. Long Playoffs Injure Players
While the initial excitement of the playoffs draws in the casual fans, all but the most hardcore and stakeholders in remaining teams lose interest in the middle rounds just due to the lengthy nature. There will be at the very least 60 playoff games, and at the most, 105. That’s a LOT of basketball to care about. That’s, on average, longer than a team’s regular season.
Should - 4. Long Playoffs Bore Fans
Underdogs will be able to sneak a game in every once in a while over a higher-ranked team, but over a timeline of 4-7 games, the higher-ranked team will be able to ward off a stolen game or two and generally prevail. This is all fine and just, but it doesn’t make for an exciting series of showdowns between teams until you near the equally-ranked teams in the later rounds. Until then, your #1’s roll through the fist couple rounds, and a low seed is pretty much lip service to a team that they’re a one and done.
Should - 3. Long Playoffs Reduce the Likelihood of an Underdog Run
Respectable Western Conference teams with winning records are currently making their vacation plans while Eastern Conference teams well below .500 are getting prepped to make a run because the league wants to honor the distinction between East and West. While there’s nothing wrong with placing the top 4 seeds in each conference, making the last 8 at large not only takes care of this problem, but the next one as well, as the East won’t get to live in their own cocoon until the finals.
Should - 2. The West Teams Get the Shaft on Playoff Berths
The West has been a far superior conference for years and years and years to the extent that the East has largely become a playground for the top ranked teams to win and rest until the finals, while the West teams are grinding it out, and we see a Cleveland team that has walked for two rounds and barely broken a sweat in the third. Meanwhile, the West teams are 18 games deep entering the finals and have had very little time to rest. This gives the East a much cushier schedule and ultimately penalizes Western teams for playing in a tougher conference. Not cool.
Should - 1. The East Teams Get to Rest
If players are complaining, and fans are complaining about fatigue over the season and another 60 games in the playoffs, then maybe the regular season should be shortened. It keeps the stakes of the playoffs the same, and I don’t think anyone would argue that the results of a 65-game regular season would be markedly different than an 82-game season. The seedings would likely change a bit, but that’s a small price to pay to keep the players healthy and maintaining fan interest.
Shouldn’t - 4. Shorten the Regular Season Instead of the Playoffs
If you really want to make the playoffs a national event, you need to take pains to ensure that most corners of the nation are included. If you’ve got three teams squaring off against 13 Western Conference teams (not that big a stretch, given recent history), you’ll likely be getting the interest of markets like Chicago, Atlanta, and Cleveland, and losing the interest of Boston, NYC, Philly, D.C., and Miami. That will sting for the good of the league, even if some of those teams might not have better records than their Western Conference counterparts.
Shouldn’t - 3. Seeding by Conference Makes the Playoffs Geographically Relevant
The differences between a 1 and an 8 seed are still vast, but they’re getting closer. And, while parity between conferences should be getting closer with salary caps, luxury taxes, and the lottery, that doesn’t seem to be happening as quickly. But it will. So exercising some patience, rather than rushing to change the rules might be the prudent play, even if it ruffles some feathers in the interim.
Shouldn’t - 2. Parity is Growing within Conferences and Between Them
Sure, they’ve been imbalanced for a really long time, but the law of large numbers says this won’t last forever. And changing things for the near-term may prove counterproductive or unnecessary in the distant future. Even if it’s a little frustrating and unfair to teams in the West right now.