The NBA Should Change Their Playoff Format


Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is a lopsided league right now. The west is a loaded conference with good teams up and down the standings, the same can not be said for the Eastern Conference.

The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up the East’s eight seed despite currently sitting 6 games under the .500 mark, while the Phoenix Suns are eliminated from playoff contention in the West despite being 14 games over .500. This type of diparity between the conferences must be addressed.

New NBA commissioner David Silver did not make a definitive statement about the subject, but did hint that there may be a change coming in the future, which is something I would welcome. When asked about the NBA’s playoff format Silver said:

"I don’t know that there will be movement. My initial thought is we will take a fresh look at it."

Although that statement is completely non-committal from the NBA’s new boss, it does at least open the door to a change.

And Right now I’m going to open the door to some criticism by throwing out my idea on how to remedy the NBA Playoff situation.

What I’d really like to see would be for the league to have less playoff teams, but I know that is not ever going to happen, so I will propose something that keeps the format with 16 teams.

There’s no reason to disregard the conference’s all together; it is always a positive to develop rivalries between teams, and keeping the travel as light as possible is beneficial as well, but it should not hamstring you from putting the best product on the floor in the post season. My proposal would be that any team under .500 should be ineligible for post season play if there is an above .500 team in the other conference that failed to qualify.

Using this year as an example, the Hawks would be left out of the playoffs and the Suns would take their place as the East’s eight seed. If the top eight teams in both conference’s are above .500, then there would be no shifting, even if a team in the one conference had a better record than the eighth place team in the other. The system I propose is meant only to keep truly undeserving teams from taking the spot of a team much better than they are. There are situations that, because of the NBA’s scheduling, makes one team’s schedule harder than another team’s.

I’m a fan of playoff rivalries and intensity, which is the only reason why I wouldn’t push for the NBA to just take the 16 top records and re-seed them, but that, too, would be better than the current set up. I just don’t think there would be any buzz watching the San Antonio Spurs play the Charlotte Bobcats in the opening round. Regardless of how bad the Knicks have been this year, if they had qualified and played either the Heat or the Pacers, there would be an intensity to the series.

There is no perfect playoff format in any sport (especially not the NBA and NHL, which both allow more than half of the league to make the playoffs) but I can not stand behind a format that allows a team that was not even mediocre to earn a spot in the post season. I hope David Silver does more than take a fresh look at the NBA’s playoff format.