One idea to improve professional basketball’s postseason.This year’s NBA playoffs had an exciting start, like the warm, giddy rush of newborn love. It’s all you think about. You can’t get enough. But then it quickly fizzed out, and became just a fling.
After the Golden State Warriors embarrassed the Dallas Mavericks, becoming the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in a seven-game series, the NBA playoffs had its best start in recent memory, if not ever.
But nothing noteworthy followed. Only yawns. It started with a bang, and ended with a snore.
Doctors could prescribe this year’s NBA Finals for insomnia patients.
The NBA championship shouldn’t come down a great San Antonio Spurs team playing a Cleveland Cavaliers team that doesn’t belong. It’s like watching the JV scrimmage the varsity — a result of the flawed Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference playoff format.
The East, in my analogy, represents the JVs. It can’t play at the level of the West (varsity), so pairing them together to decide the championship defies rational thought.
Yes, East teams won two of the last three titles. But it’s hard to argue the West has superior teams every year.
Ah, but a solution lies in professional basketball’s younger sibling.
The NBA should copy the smoothest championship system: the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Take the top 16 teams, regardless of conference, ranked by regular season winning percentage. Set up a bracket like a NCAA tournament regional, with the higher seeds playing the lower seeds. The No. 1 seed would play a series against the No. 16 seed, No. 2 versus No. 15, etc.
This would likely put the best West teams, the better teams, playing later in the bracket.
Here’s how the current system seeded this year’s playoff teams:
Eastern Conference: 1) Detroit; 2) Cleveland; 3) Toronto; 4) Miami; 5) Chicago; 6) New Jersey; 7) Washington; 8) Orlando.
Western Conference: 1) Dallas; 2) Phoenix; 3) San Antonio; 4) Utah; 5) Houston; 6) Denver; 7) L.A. Lakers; 8) Golden State.
Now, here’s the seeding under the new system, one bracket with teams ranked by regular season winning percentage: 1) Dallas; 2) Phoenix; 3) San Antonio; 4) Detroit; 5) Houston; 6) Utah; 7) Cleveland; 8) Chicago; 9) Toronto; 10) Denver; 11) Miami; 12) L. A. Lakers; 13) Golden State; 14) New Jersey; 15) Washington;16) Orlando.
Then set up the following bracket, like a NCAA regional:
- L. A. Lakers
- Golden State
- San Antonio
- New Jersey
This would correct problems in this year’s playoffs, such as a boring Finals featuring an unworthy Cavs team, and in the system, placing an inferior East against the West.
First, the boring Finals.
Should all go to plan, this system would pit No. 1 seed Dallas against No. 2 seed Phoenix or No. 3 seed San Antonio in the Finals. That’s how it should be. The best teams in the league should play for the title, not a conference crown.
Those three teams play instant classics all season. We’ve seen them play classic playoff series, too. Imagine them playing with extra adrenaline for a world championship. Toss “boring” in the dumpster.
Next, a mediocre — at best — Cleveland team playing for all the marbles.
In the new system, Cleveland would have to go through Denver, and then likely Phoenix and San Antonio to reach the Finals. But it’s unlikely they would even get through the first round. That’s quite different than Cleveland’s cakewalk to the conference finals this year.
Then, there’s the biggest issue: the obvious talent gap between the East and West.
The new system, if no Cinderellas emerged, would put Detroit against Dallas, the top teams in their respective conferences, in one semifinal. Normally they couldn’t meet until the Finals. This is an example of how the best teams would play for the title. The West would knock off the East pretenders on the way to the Finals, instead of in them, creating a proper ending.
Looking at the future, the power may shift to the East, the home of the league’s best young players — LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Gilbert Arenas, among others.
And when that happens, this new system would still work. Who wouldn’t want to see LeBron and D-Wade slug it out for the crown?
Many solutions exist. I simply offer an idea to help us fall in love with NBA playoff basketball every year.