Nov 27, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) reacts against the Orlando Magic during the fourth quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Why the NBA Should Change its Playoff Format

The NBA is changing. We are now in the era of superteams. Lebron James started this trend in 2010 when he decided to leave Cleveland and sign with the Miami Heat to pair with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The three of them, The Big Three, all signed six-year contracts, each taking 15 million fewer dollars then they could’ve made.

At the Heat’s team welcome party, Lebron said the team would win multiple championships.

“Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,” he said.

Before that time, teams had done great jobs of getting around the cap, to pair superstars together, like Shaq and Kobe, but this was different.

These were three All-Star players saying they wanted to play together and would all take pay-cuts to do it.

In their four years together, the Heat went to four NBA Finals, winning two of them.

They became the first team since 1987 to make it to back-to-back-to-back-to-back finals.

Fast forward seven years after that first superteam, and the league is now filled with them.

Newer Superteams

The Oklahoma City Thunder won 47 games last year. They were the six seed in the conference. Maybe a team like that goes out and gets a solid scorer who can take the pressure off of Russell Westbrook. No, instead they trade for both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, who have a combined 14 All-Star appearances and 17 seasons averaging at least 20 points.

The Golden State Warriors were coming off an NBA-record 73-win year in 2015-2016. But they went out and added 8-time All-Star, 4-time league scoring champion and 2014 MVP, Kevin Durant.

The Rockets were 55-27 last year. They added Chris Paul, who is top-15 all-time in career assists and steals.

Did I mention all three of these teams are in the same conference?

There is an unbalance of talent in the two conferences. The Western Conference has been better and deeper than the Eastern Conference for the majority of the last two decades.

With Adam Silver at the helm, it is time for the league to make a change.

Unbalance in Previous Years

In 2013-2014, the Phoenix Suns did not make the playoffs with a record of 48-34. That would have been tied for third in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks were the eight-seed in the East with a 38-44 record.

In 2009-2009, the Suns again did not make the playoffs, this time with a 46-36 record, seven games better than the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons.

The Jazz finished eighth in the West in 2009. They were 48-34 and had to play against the number one seed, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the first round. They lost in five games. If they were in the Eastern Conference, they would’ve been the fourth seed and had a much easier route to a championship.

In 2003-2004, the Seattle SuperSonics came in 12th in the conference with a 37-45 record. Not a good record, but eighth place in the East was 36-46. The Jazz and Trail Blazers also didn’t make the playoffs that year with 42 and 40 wins, respectively. Those would have been tied for fourth and tied for fifth place in the East.

What Should be the Alternative?

The NBA should change the format so that the teams with the top-16 records make the playoffs. They should eliminate the current system that the top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs. A fairer system would be that the six division winners get the top six playoff seeds, with the last 10 spots going to the teams with the next 10-best records, regardless of what division or conference they are in. The NBA may be foreshadowing this idea, by eliminating conferences in the 2018 All-Star game.

How to go about it

Right now, the way a team’s schedule works is they play four times against divisional opponents, four times against six teams in the conference, three times against the remaining four teams in the conference and two times against the other conference.

The new proposal would be to play each division opponent four times, 16 teams three times and nine teams twice. The 16 teams outside of your division will be random.


This will avoid many of the same playoff matchups we have seen in the last few years. The NBA is super predictable right now. The contenders in the East are pretty much limited to the Cavs and Celtics, with an outside chance of maybe Milwaukee if Giannis Antetokounmpo keeps up his MVP play. In the West, there is Golden State, Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The league is limited in teams of top-notch talent. Putting the sixteen teams together in one big playoff would make it fairer to all playoff teams to make it to the championships regardless of conference.

It will also make it more interesting. A second-round matchup of Boston vs. Oklahoma City is more exciting than the current format.

This format can also rekindle some old rivalries. Imagine a first round between the Lakers and the Celtics. Ratings for those games would be through the roof.

It is in the best interest of the league and the fans to have the top-16 teams, regardless of conference, be in the same playoff bracket.

About Tyler Savitsky

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