How to Fix the NBA Playoffs (Part 1)

I just finished watching the Warriors pull off an all time great comeback in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Just yesterday, I almost lost my mind when John Wall saved the Wizards with a season-deciding 3, and tomorrow should be an epic Game 7 in Boston. Great. Who doesn’t love awesome, NBA Playoff basketball. But here’s the problem: the playoffs are getting dull. Not just these playoffs, but the first 2 rounds of the last 3 years of playoffs have lacked shock and surprise. And don’t get me wrong, I want to see another Warriors vs Cavs Finals. I like that the NBA has had more dynasties and repeats than any other league. There’s something great about making it more difficult to knock off the top dog. The NBA makes it players more popular than any other sport, and the way to do that is to make it that they get upset less. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little variety. Heck, the last non 4 v 5 upset we’ve had in the first round was 3 years ago in 2014, when the overpriced, 6 seed Nets took down the young 3 seed Raptors in 7 games. Well, it’s my job to think of all the ways we can make the playoffs more exciting without turning it into a glorified March Madness frenzy. Let’s see all the options:

  1. Get Rid of Conferences and Make the NBA Playoffs the teams with the Top 16 records                                                                                                                                                            I mentioned this in my original NBA Playoff preview. Basically, I’ve seen a lot of videos, articles, and other stuff where people say that they wish the 2 conferences were dissolved. There’s reasons such as creating diverse rivalries, the fact that conferences were only created in the 60s because of travel limitations, and just to create a more unique league. Just thinking of the playoffs for now, I think getting rid of conferences could get rid of some bad first round series, specifically in the East, and would allow more deserving teams to get in. Here’s what the bracket this year would’ve liked without conferences.1 Warriors vs 16 Bulls

    8 Clippers vs 9 Wizards

    4 Celtics vs 13 Bucks

    5 Cavaliers vs 12 Grizzlies

    6 Jazz vs 11 Hawks

    3 Rockets vs 14 Pacers

    7 Raptors vs 10 Thunder

    2 Spurs vs 15 Trail Blazers


    I don’t know about you, but some of those series seem pretty interesting to me. A Wizards-Clippers duel in the first round, with both teams having some lingering curses. The young Celtics having to fend off the even younger Bucks. Raptors-Thunder just sounds good. And then the potential second round? Oh my gosh, Cavs battling the Celtics early, Warriors battling a Wizards’ team that gives them problems, maybe another Spurs-Thunder roller coaster, just wow. The downside is that because of this, the Dubs and Cavs would meet in the semis, and the finals themselves would ultimately be a disappointment. But then again, if players knew about this format it might discourage LeBron from resting simply because he’d know they couldn’t coast to a top seed with the Warriors and the Spurs in the way, rather than just the East. The big problem is that the NBA hates change and will unfortunately never do this. Onto No.2.

  2. Make the First Round back into a Best out of 5                                                                                   This is a very common idea that you can even here on pre-game shows on TNT and ESPN. It wouldn’t have changed anything this year,but it would completely change the sense of the series, and make each game uber-important. Just think how worried the Celtics would’ve been had they been on the brink of elimination with being 2-0, and how excited and hungry the Bulls would’ve been. You never know what might’ve happened. To prove my point, I went back to the 2014 playoffs and installed this theory. Now this was a very good playoffs with multiple game 7s and duels like Clippers-Thunder, Young Warriors-Clippers, Thunder-Spurs, and even another Pacers-Heat series. But here’s what the 2nd round looks like with the 5 game system.                                                                                                                                  1) Spurs vs 5) Trail Blazers                                                                                                          3) Clippers vs 7) Grizzlies                                                                                                            8) Hawks vs 5) Wizards                                                                                                                3) Raptors vs 2) Heat                                                                                                                    Now you might think that these series seem less interesting than the originals, but this does provide some interesting narratives. The Thunder lose to the Grizzlies again, increasing chances that Durant leaves. The Hawks somehow beat the Pacers, and we’re left with the biggest late season collapse of a powerhouse team. The Raptors get to start their tradition of being owned by LeBron a few years early. Maybe the Clippers break the curse and make the WCF, maybe the Hawks become only the 2nd 8 seed to win multiple series, maybe LeBron’s team loses in the East. Sorry, just joking there at the end. I’ve also thought the NBA might want to make the 2nd round 5 games as well, but that would rob of series like the Celtics-Wizards one were getting right now. This has the highest chance of actually happening, but is probably the most boring solution. Oh well, a solution is a solution right?
  3. Take the top 6 or 7 teams from each conference, then have a play-in tournament for the last spot                                                                                                                                        This takes from my favorite sports writer ever, Bill Simmons, who describes this in detail in his Book of Basketball. Anyways, to do this, we’d have to shorten the season by at least 6 games, which automatically disqualifies it from ever coming to reality because of NBA tightwads, stubborn players, and horrified statisticians worrying that all time historical ranks would be ruined. But man can dream. Let’s say that we had the format this year where each conference took the top 7 spots, and then had an 8 team single-elimination play in tournament for the last spot.                                                                                                                                          Western Conference:                                                                                                                    1) Blazers vs 8) Suns, 2) Nuggets vs 7) Lakers, 3) Pelicans vs 6) T-Wolves,                    4) Mavericks vs 5) Kings                                                                                                             Eastern Conference:                                                                                                                       1) Bulls vs 8) Nets, 2) Heat vs 7) Sixers, 3) Pistons vs 6) Magic,                                       4) Hornets vs 5) Knicks                                                                                                                  Think of how much fun it could be. What if my Sixers got hot and The Process made it to the playoffs, ultimately ruining the purpose of it, but you know. Maybe everyone’s favorite Heat team makes the playoffs rather than the frustrating Bulls. Boogie and AD would take on the young KAT and Wiggins with a lot of pride on the line. Dirk and Rick Carlisle could sneak in one last time. We could get an absolutely thrilling winner take all play in final between the Blazers and the Nuggets, with the Jokic vs Nurkic rivalry in prime time. Can you imagine the Joker in a death match with everything on the line vs “The Riddler” (this is now Jusuf Nurkic’s new nickname, I heard it in a podcast once and I love it, anyone who reads this, tell anyone you know that Nurkic is the Riddler, this must happen). I know this seems ironic coming from a Sixers fan, but this method could eliminate tanking (gasp!) Think about, since every team would have at least some sliver of chance to make the playoffs, and with coaches trying to win, teams could never admit that there’s nothing left to play for. And if they willingly sacrificed these postseason play-ins, they’d be hated to the point of no return. They’d be publicly stating to their fans, “Our team is garbage, the draft pick means more.” Fans would hate the owner, the coaching staff, and the NBA head office would have to step in and threaten them. But how about another wrinkle: What if we still kept the top 7 teams in, had the tournament play out, but then you’re lottery chances were directly proportional to how far you got. In other words, if you lost in the final game of the play-in tourney, here’s your consolation, you now have either the best or 2nd best odds to get the top pick! Why should we reward teams for being lazy, gutting the team, and giving up. We should reward teams like Miami that trained their players, worked hard, and are still a piece or two away from contending. Instead of trapping our best young talent on dumpster fire teams, we could place them on exciting young squads with other rising talent. New challengers would pop up and maybe there would be more quality basketball. Now this doesn’t work currently because of the Nets-Celtics trade robbery that’ll cause a top prospect to join the top team, but let’s say that’s not the case. What would you rather have, Lonzo Ball landing with the Orlando Tragic and wasting good years while management looks for a decent supporting cast, or Lonzo landing with the Pelicans and making a Big 3 with Boogie and Davis. Maybe Markelle pairs up with the Joker in Denver. We could get Jayson Tatum to a confusingly awesome Heat team. The possibilities are endless. The downfall is that I’m sure crazy NBA execs will come up with systems to make the final play in game, only to throw it for the pick, but I’d rather have that than the current system. There are so many more things that you can do with this. Please NBA, use this in some way.

One thought on “How to Fix the NBA Playoffs (Part 1)

  1. Trevor Tipton

    The only problem with the lack of conferences would be that scheduling would be less organized, but who cares. I agree that the first round definitely needs to be 5 games. Mike Korzemba had an idea that the top seed picks who they play. Combine that with yours and the playoffs become extremely exciting.


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