The NBA Playoffs begin tomorrow and if the NBA Finals goes a full seven games the playoffs will not end until two months later on June 19th. That is insane. If the NBA is trying to be different from college basketball’s March Madness it is doing a great job. If the NBA is trying to increase fan interest in the playoffs it is doing a miserable job. The longer anything lasts, whether it is a playoff, concert, game, speech, etc. the less interest those following it will have when it is finally over. It is cliché but it is also very true that less is almost always more.
College basketball trims a field of 68 (it should really go back to 64) down to a single champion in three weeks. The NBA takes two months to get from 16 teams to one. You could call one a sprint and the other a marathon, or you could more aptly describe the former as efficient and the latter as painfully inefficient.
Without radically changing the NBA playoff format here are two changes that the NBA could easily make that would shorten the length of the playoffs and get more interest from less games in less time.
1. Eliminate the Best of 7 Format from the First Two Rounds
In 2003 David Stern in all his infinite wisdom changed the first round series from best of 5 to best of 7 in order to protect the top seeds from first round upsets. The rationale was that upsets would be less likely to happen in a best of 7 series than in a best of 5. While college basketball celebrated upsets the NBA tried to avoid them. All the change has really provided is more meaningless playoff games that has forced the top teams to play more meaningless games in their quest for a championship. It has also dragged out the first round of the playoffs to the point that the first round lasts two weeks. That is ridiculous. We do not need best of 7 series for every playoff series. The Miami Heat should not be forced to beat the poor Charlotte Bobcats four times, twice should be sufficient.
And that brings me to the first change, the first round should be a best of 3 played in 1-1-1 format with the highest seeded team playing at home in Game 1 and Game 3. The first round series are and should be a mere formality. Seven game series for the first two rounds is superfluous. The second round series should be reduced to a best of 5 series played in a 2-2-1 format with the highest seeded team playing at home in games 1, 2, and 5. The first round was a best of 5 series before 2003 and it worked just fine. The Conference Finals and NBA Finals should stay at best of 7 series. Once the field is trimmed to four teams a best of 7 series can provide the chance for a great back and forth series and is warranted when only the best four teams are still alive.
Another format change that I would have proposed in years past is to change the NBA Finals to a 2-2-1-1-1 format to match the rest of the playoff series. The NBA, again under David Stern (I do not miss his reign has commissioner) changed the format to 2-3-2 to decrease the travel days for teams that were potentially on other sides of the country. But this format provided the lower seeded team with three straight home games and made the team with the better record play the almost always pivotal game 5 on the road. The NBA announced last fall that it will be switching back to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for this year’s Finals. Proof that the NBA is capable of making logical changes.
2. Play More Back to Back Games and Eliminate Two Days for Travel
For some reason the NBA has decided that Games 1 and 2 of the playoff series cannot be played on consecutive nights and that teams need two days off for travel. While some nights off are needed for players to rest, nights off are not needed between every game, especially the first two games of a series. And gone are the days where NBA teams fly commercial and are at the mercy of the an airlines flight schedule. All NBA teams fly charter flights and come and go from a city as they please. A 7 game series should be resolved in twelve days at most.
Even if it only adopted some of these changes, the NBA could do a lot to shorten the playoffs and keep the excitement level high through the duration of the playoffs. It’s hard to stay excited about a playoff that drags on for two months. Are any of these changes likely to happen in the near future? No. But they should.
Posted by Hatch