Weekly Countdown: The league's postseason format is OK as it is
5 Reasons to stick with the playoff format
5. The NBA can't seed a single bracket. Based on the superior number of winning teams in the West, there has been a lot of complaining that the NBA needs to consider reseeding the playoffs without regard to conference. Invite to the postseason tournament the 16 winningest teams across the board and seed them in a single bracket from No. 1 Boston to No. 16 Toronto.
The argument is worthy in the sense that Golden State (48 wins) and Portland (41) from the West would qualify for the playoffs at the expense of losing teams Philadelphia (40) and Atlanta (37), the current Nos. 7 and 8 seeds in the East, respectively.
The main problem has to do with regular-season scheduling. Each team currently plays 52 games within its conference and 30 interconference games. If the argument is to make the postseason more fair, then it would be unfair to group all of the entrants into one pot based on different schedules.
If this is about being fair, then the regular-season schedule would need to be weighted evenly so that every team would play an equal number of games against opponents from both conferences. This would ruin any hope of creating divisional or regional rivalries while making the travel more onerous.
If anything needs to be fixed, it isn't the playoffs. The NBA's weakness is the five-and-a-half-month regular season. It's hard enough for fans and players to pay full attention to all 82 games, and anything that decreases interest in the regular season -- such as overhauling the schedule without regard to conference affiliation -- would be an act of self-immolation.
4. The tournament wouldn't necessarily improve. Here are the first-round matchups as it is now:
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 8 Atlanta
No. 1 L.A. Lakers vs. No. 8 Denver
If the 16 winningest teams were included (despite the wide disparity in their schedules), below is how the first round would line up. (I've arbitrarily granted Portland the tiebreaker over Toronto, two 41-41 teams, based on the Blazers' residence in the superior West.) I've noted whether each series in this format is a better or worse matchup involving the higher-seeded team.
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 16 Toronto ... better
Toronto would be a better opponent for the Celtics than Atlanta, Portland would provide a better test for the Pistons than Philadelphia (though the 76ers have created interest in that series), and I would rather see Denver instead of Utah against the Rockets.
But I say the new opponents for the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Suns and Jazz would provide worse matchups than those teams are facing today. I would rather see San Antonio vs. Phoenix than either Spurs-Warriors or Suns-Mavericks; likewise, is Orlando-Toronto more competitive than Celtics-Raptors or Jazz-Magic?
3. The NBA playoffs need to be quirky. It is a fact that the NBA puts on the purest postseason tournament of the four major leagues (if the NHL can still claim to be a major league). By that I mean the NBA playoffs run truest to form: The most successful regular-season teams tend to win the title. Eleven of the last 12 NBA champions have been the Nos. 1 or 2 seed within their conference. An NBA championship must be earned during the regular season, whereas lesser wild-card teams win the championships in baseball and football, and postseason upsets in those leagues as well as the NHL happen far more often than in the NBA.
The issue for the NBA is not to make its playoffs more fair, because by current standards it is already the truest test in American team sports. But audiences are not impressed by predictability. They prefer upsets, underdogs and March Madness.
If it were up to me, every NBA series would be best-of-five -- maybe even best-of-three -- which would increase the importance of each game and the unpredictability of each series. But the NBA has gone the other way by increasing the opening round from best-of-five to best-of-seven because teams need the extra cash.
In which case the current format is probably as good as we can hope for. I like the idea of two championship contenders -- the Spurs and Suns -- meeting in the first round, and I like the young Hornets testing themselves against a recent NBA finalist from Dallas that won 67 games last season. The most qualified teams usually advance through the playoffs because that's how the best-of-seven format works in the NBA; in the meantime, the opening round needs to be made as compelling as possible, and at least the system has provided a few good series this year.
2. The lottery is a consolation prize. Of course the Warriors and Blazers would prefer to be in the playoffs, but at least they have a small chance of winning the draft lottery next month and with it a chance to add Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose.
(P.S. Let's hear no talk of how the lottery needs to be changed to prevent bad teams from tanking. No matter how it is adjusted, there will always be bubble teams willing to lose games this year in hopes of improving their roster for the future.)
1. The complaining isn't so bad. It's better to hear from passionate and occasionally enraged fans about the current system than to imagine the "improved'' system that would take its place: a nondescript regular-season schedule, followed by potentially less compelling first-round matchups.
While we're at it, I'm also against reseeding after each round. If a bottom-dweller happens to win by upset, then it shouldn't be penalized by being matched against the next-highest seed. People like underdogs, and the surprise winners should be given a fighting chance to keep playing in a postseason format that is heavily weighted against them already.