This time of year is a relatively boring in the NBA, as the gruelling 82 game season draws to a close most of teams have little to play for. Nearly all the teams have either secured their playoff place or have resigned themselves to another year in draft lottery. This results in an end of term feeling where the majority of teams are doing the basketball equivalent of putting on a video and having a snooze on their desk.
There are a few radical ideas that could combat this late season lethargy such as reducing the number of games or introducing some form of relegation. But these are unlikely to gain any traction with owners who are unwilling to sacrifice potential revenue streams.
However, there is one idea which could provide the last quarter of the season with the shot up the arm it needs. Abandon the conference seeding system for the playoffs.
The Western and Eastern Conference systems make sense from a purely administrative standpoint during the regular season. It is logical that teams in the Eastern half of the country play each other more regularly than the teams out West. In theory it reduces the distance teams have to travel during the season, although certain teams benefit from significantly less travel than others, and it helps create the rivalries that make the NBA an intriguing league.
Where this theory breaks down is when we get to the postseason. Why should the fact that the league’s three best teams all happen to reside in the Western conference mean that only one can make it to the finals. The idea of Golden State playing San Antonio or Houston for a championship is a far more enticing prospect than another Cavaliers vs Warriors showdown.
Beyond the possibility of a more high powered finals this system would give teams a much greater incentive to achieve the best record they possibly could. For the past 3 seasons, current slump aside, Cleveland has been by far the best team in the East. However, if they knew that winning more games meant they could avoid an earlier match up with one of the best teams in the West they would be highly motivated to continue winning right until the end of the season.
An added benefit of this new system would also be that it might stop teams resting their stars during the regular season as those few extra wins could make all the difference in their final seeding.
Here’s how the first round of the playoffs would look under this system if the season ended today.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs Portland Trail Blazers (16)
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs Indiana Pacers (15)
Houston Rockets (3) vs Miami Heat (14)
Boston Celtics (4) vs Milwaukee Bucks (13)
Cleveland Cavaliers (5) vs Atlanta Hawks (12)
Utah Jazz (6) vs Memphis Grizzlies (11)
Washington Wizards (7) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (10)
Toronto Raptors (8) vs Los Angeles Clippers (9)
Aren’t those some mouthwatering encounters? Instead of loosing one of the Rockets or Thunder in the first round both teams have a chance of progressing. Gone would be the argument that so and so only won a championship because they play in the East or West. Under this system to win a championship you have to play the very best teams league wide.
There might have to be some adjustments to the regular season schedule to increase the amount of interconfertnce games but that would be a small price to pay for a more meaningful regular season and more exciting playoff series.
It seems unlikely that this will happen anytime soon, although the league did recently scrap the significance of winning your division, but surely it is the way forward.