The NBA Needs to Change Its Playoff Format… NOW


One great thing about the NBA and commissioner David Stern is that they fix mistakes with their game. Case in point – in 2003 the NBA switched the first round of the playoffs from a best-of-five game series to a best-of-seven to help ensure that the better team advances. That’s why it’s mind boggling to surprise why they won’t change the playoff format to explain debacles like this season.

If a non-sports fan took a quick check at the 2006 Western Conference Standings and then the Playoff bracket, they would scratch their heads in disbelief. The Dallas Mavericks had the second best record in the conference at 60-22, three games behind conference leading San Antonio. The Denver Nuggets were 44-38, 19 games behind San Antonio. however, come playoff time the Nuggets were the #3 seed while the Mavericks were the #4 seed. All because Dallas happens to play in the same division as San Antonio and the top three seeds HAVE TO be division winners. So now Dallas and San Antonio are meeting in the second round of the playoffs as opposed to the Western Conference Championship, where the two best teams should be meeting.

To add to the chaos, the #6 seeded LA Clippers had a better record than the #3 seed Nuggets. consequently, in their first round series the #6 seed had the home court advantage! This is because the NBA gives the team with the better record the home court advantage…but not the higher seed. Does that make sense at all? If you are going to reward division winners with the top three seeds, shouldn’t you also reward them with home court advantage? Or you could just reward the teams with the better record with the home court advantage AND the higher seed! This isn’t rocket science Mr. Stern.

If all of that wasn’t embarrassing enough, at the end of the regular season the NBA was faced with the worst possible scenario for a sporting event – a game where it was better for each team to lose. The #5 seeded Memphis Grizzlies were playing the #6 seed Clippers with the loser having the inside track to the #6 seed and home court advantage in the first round. The winner would likely get the #5 seed and a date with the Mavericks in the first round. The Clippers “lost” the game and went on to get the #6 seed, home court advantage, and a comparatively easy win over the Nuggets in the first round. The Grizzlies “won” the game, the #5 seed, and were promptly swept out of the playoffs by the superior Mavericks.

The NBA cannot allow this to happen again. It’s an embarrassment to their game and to all things sports. There should never be a game where it is in each teams best interest to lose. So what do I propose?

The most simple and logical solution to this problem is to guarantee each division winner a identify in the playoffs, but then seed the teams based on their records with the highest seed always having home court. All ties in record would go to the division winner. This nevertheless makes winning the division important – it guarantees you a identify in the playoffs and the upper hand in tie breakers – but also ensures that the best teams get the best seeds and home court advantage. I liken it to the NCAA Tournament – winning the Big Ten or the ACC doesn’t guarantee you a number one seed, it guarantees you a identify in the tournament.

Here’s what the seeding looked like this year:

1. *San Antonio (63-19)

2. *Phoenix (54-28)

3. *Denver (44-38)

4. Dallas (60-22)

5. Memphis (49-33)

6. LA Clippers (47-35)

7. LA Lakers (45-37)

8. Sacramento (44-38)

*Division Winner

Here’s what it would have looked like in my hypothesizedv system:

1. *San Antonio (63-19)

2. Dallas (60-22)

3. *Phoenix (54-28)

4. Memphis (49-33)

5. LA Clippers (47-35)

6. LA Lakers (45-37)

7. *Denver (44-38)

8. Sacramento (44-38)

*Division Winner

Amazing! The best teams truly have the highest seeds AND have the home court advantage, all while nevertheless preserving the importance of winning a division. This would prevent Dallas and San Antonio from playing in the second round, ensure that Memphis would have home court advantage and not be stuck playing Dallas, and prevent Denver from getting the #3 seed just for winning the division…all while keeping the integrity of winning a division by giving Denver the #7 seed over Sacramento for winning their division.

Please, please do the right thing for next season Mr. Stern and adopt a system that is fair for every team. Don’t let this disaster turn into the new BCS. Do what you always do – fix what’s wrong.

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