Over the past few years, we have all heard rumblings about NBA Commissioner Adam Silver considering tweaking the NBA Playoffs. The WNBA already features a format without conferences, and it’s been successful thus far. The NBA, however, shouldn’t have to go as far as eliminating conferences altogether. Instead, the association should allow above-.500 teams to replace that conference’s sub-.500 teams in the playoffs.
To better explain my proposed format, let’s go back to the 2015 playoffs. Here were the standings for the 6-9 seeds in the West and East that year.
- San Antonio Spurs (56-26)
- Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
- New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (45-37)
- Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)
- Boston Celtics (40-42)
- Brooklyn Nets (38-44)
- Indiana Pacers (38-44)
As you can see, the Eastern Conference was quite weak that year. Several teams at .500 or worse snuck in, while the Thunder, who were well over .500, missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker. This brought up the debate as to whether the playoffs needed to eliminate conferences to ensure quality matchups and leave out bad teams.
The issue was brought up again last season, when the Eastern Conference number one seed Toronto Raptors were swept in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the hobbled Boston Celtics ended the Philadelphia 76ers’ season in five games. After it became apparent that the Celtics or Cavaliers were likely to meet a quick end to their season at the hands of the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors, the idea of eliminating conferences was brought up yet again.
The NBA should revamp the playoff format, but they should not eliminate conferences entirely. What the association should do is allow teams on the outside that would have made it over the weaker teams in the other conference to have a chance to compete in the other conference’s playoffs.
Using 2015 as an example, the Thunder would petition the NBA to compete in the East postseason, and would be seeded as high as sixth, pushing the Bucks down to seventh, the Celtics to eighth and the Nets out of the postseason altogether. The Thunder would have faced the Chicago Bulls, the Bucks would have faced the Cavaliers and the Celtics would have faced the Atlanta Hawks as a result.
Of course, travel and strength of schedule would be a consideration. Travel would be tricky to maneuver because there would be extra mileage for a team such as the Thunder that would have to travel to Chicago instead of traveling to a city within their conference, such as Golden State. Competitive equity would also be a factor as Western Conference teams only have two games per year against each Eastern Conference team compared to the three to four games they play against other inter-conference foes.
However, if the NBA wants to keep tradition by maintaining conferences, while also making the postseason competitive, they should consider this format to ensure teams who are above-.500 have a chance at a championship. On the contrary, teams that finish at .500 or sub-.500 do not deserve a chance at the postseason or a championship.