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Do The NBA Playoffs Need To Be Shorter? We Debate

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I floated around an idea that the NBA Playoffs are both too long and too big. A two month, 16 team marathon that minimizes the importance of the regular season and is filled with games that too many people, die hard NBA included, often forget. Now, I met some resistance. Others thought the playoffs were fine as is and that shortening them would be a mistake so here we go. One person to each side. I, ryebreadraz fighting for a shorter postseason and Sideout11 fighting for the status quo. What side are you on?

Shorter Postseason- by ryebreadraz

The NBA Playoffs are too long and include too many teams, plain and simple. The playoff field should be cut and as a result, be one round shorter. Now, let me preface this with the acknowledgement that this would never, ever happen. While it makes competitive sense to change the playoff format, as you will see, it does not make financial sense and because of that, the playoff format as we know it is here to stay. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about what should be though.

Now, I propose the playoff field be cut in half. Let’s make it four teams from each conference in the playoffs.

The point of the NBA Playoffs is to determine a champion and the league’s best team. A playoff berth are also supposed to be earned, not given. It is a place for the best to showcase what they’ve got, but it is no longer a place for the best. Of the 30 NBA teams, 16 of them make the playoffs so not only is it not a place for the best of the best, but you don’t even have to be in the top half of the league to get in. Since 2005-2006, 12 teams have made the playoffs with regular season record of .500 or worse. Teams that can’t even win more games than they lose are making the playoffs and are doing so regularly! I don’t think that’s excellence. The NBA Playoffs are no longer a place for the best, but instead a place for the best, the good, the mediocre and the not so good. That’s exclusive company.

A smaller playoff field will also bring some importance to the regular season. What else has the last month of the regular season become, but if nothing more than a time for the good teams to rest players and the rest of the teams to play for the right to be knocked out of the playoffs first. Imagine a basketball world where the final month of the regular season was reserved for teams that would actually have a chance to win the title to try and squeeze into the playoffs. Teams around the country would be battling it out for a chance to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Sure, teams battle it out now at the end, but how many Utah or Detroit or New Orleans fans really felt that if they had a real chance at winning a title? Take a look at baseball or football and see what the final weeks are like as teams battle it out for a playoff spot. There, the theater starts before the playoffs. I wouldn’t mind a similar scenario in the NBA.

Now, would the NBA really miss out of a deserving champion if the playoff field were cut in half? Well, besides the fact that the deserving champions would be required to be champions from day one of the regular season all the way through the NBA Finals, lower seeded teams haven’t made much of an impact in the playoffs. Sure, a lower seeded team wins a series from time to time, but they don’t have much chance of winning the title, which is what the playoffs are for. Since 1984 (lockout shortened season excluded), when the playoffs were expanded to their current size, only once has a team from outside the top four from either conference made it to the NBA Finals. So sure, you’re excluding some teams from the playoffs, but if history is an indicator, they don’t have a chance of playing for the title anyways.

A smaller postseason will also increase the number of important games throughout the playoffs and regular season. How many regular season games are really important and bring out a sense of urgency and intensity from BOTH teams? Half of the first round playoff games lack that too. Now if the playoffs included only four teams per conference, each playoff game would be competitive and intense.

The regular season would also be extra competitive. Teams would have to bring the intensity on a night in, night out basis and as a result, you could develop some true bad blood. That might bring…rivalries back to the NBA. Ever since the Lakers and Kings in the early 2000’s you could argue that there hasn’t been a single NBA rivalry. Well, it’s tough to develop a rivalry without many important games between teams. Rivalries require intensity and too many games don’t have it. If each division winner got a playoff berth and there was only one wild card, imagine the intensity each time the top teams in a division played? Whether it was November, January or April, that game would carry weight and bring an intensity that fuels rivalries.

Take a look at this past postseason. Boston and Chicago played a series for the ages. It was some of the best basketball you could ask for. Now, you may say that the Boston-Chicago series is evidence that the first round is great. I’d argue that a couple weeks after the series, nobody remembered the series and a few years from now, outside of those two cities, only the NBA’s die hard fans will even remember the series. The first round is so unimportant that even the best played of series are forgotten.

The casual NBA fan checks in here and there in the regular season, but really wait for the playoffs. Well, that fan no longer waits for the playoffs, but instead the NBA Finals. The playoffs are simply too long for a casual fan to watch intently. Cut a couple weeks and a round off of it and all of a sudden you can follow an entire postseason as a casual fan. Cut those teams off and you get epic series as well as an epic regular season finish and early season games that matter. Shorten the postseason and you get the NBA that should be, from the first game to the last.

Keep It As Is- by Sideout11

The NBA playoffs, while admittedly not perfect, is not in need of any tinkering.  Well, actually they should change one thing, and that is return to a five game series in the first round, but I will talk about that later.

As Rye mentioned, the point of the NBA Playoffs is to determine a champion and the league’s best team.  I don't think that anyone would doubt that past champions and runner-ups have been among the best from that season, and well deserving of their place in the finals.  So clearly the current format does not hinder quality rising to the top.  Lakers, Pistons, Spurs, and Heat were all first or second in their conference when they won the championship.

This does not mean, however, that there is predictability or a lack of excitement.  Many of those teams were challenged from the get go such as Lakers-Kings in 2000 and Celtics-Hawks last year.  Closing the gap in the records by downsizing to four teams does not guarantee more exciting match-ups.  One of the reasons for this is because often time big name matchups are overhyped and fail to live up to expectations, even when it is a well played series.  However, it's when you get unheralded match-ups like Bulls-Celtics and Warriors-Mavs that the real excitement is generated.& nbsp; These types of series can come from both the first round and the last, so I think that shortening the number of rounds, while increasing competitiion, might actually hurt the excitement factor.

As far as sub-.500 teams making the playoffs, this really is a non-issue in my mind.  It happens at most once a year, and when it does the team is usual only one or two games below.  Sure, you could look at the Eastern Conference last year and say, "the Hawks made the playoffs at 37-45," (and it's worth noting that they still gave the Celts all they could handle) but at the same time you would need to acknowledge the Warriors, who missed the playoffs at 48-34.  The strength of each conference ebbs and flows, so it's difficult to say that the bottom seeds are always undeserving.

Lastly, it is very difficult to establish rivalries in the NBA, again because of the ebb and flow issue.  There will always be Lakers-Celtics, Pistons-Knicks, etc, but the best the NBA can hope for past that is mini-rivalries like Lakers-Suns or Cavs-Wizards.  Very few teams are good year in and year out, so a long-standing rivalry is unlikely.  Also, the Lakers and the Spurs will meet each year regardless, whether you call it the first, second, or third round.

I agree that the playoffs are too long, but I also believe that only three rounds is too short.  This is why I would like to see the league return to a 5 game opening round.  I also have considered a 6-team format with the top two seeds getting a bye, but 4-7 less games is too much of an advantage in my opinion.

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