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Masin-Moyer: NBA playoff system needs a dramatic shake-up

| Wednesday, February 21, 2018

During the past week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver toyed with the idea of re-inventing the NBA’s playoff system.

The proposal’s central tennent is taking away seeding based on conference — where the teams with the first through eighth ranked records make the playoffs from each conference — to a system where the teams with the 16 best records, regardless of conference, would make the playoffs and be seeded accordingly.

Silver’s proposal seems to be a reaction to the Western Conference’s consistently better overall records in the last 10 or so years, where many teams from the West were excluded from the playoffs despite having better records than playoff teams in the East — during the 2013-14 season, for example, the 38-win Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs while the 48-win Phoenix Suns, who had the same record as the third-seeded Toronto Raptors in the East, missed the playoffs.

But this proposal, especially in an era of increased parity between the conferences, doesn’t get to the heart of what is really wrong with the NBA’s bloated playoff system — there are simply too many teams.

I think both Commissioner Silver and I would agree the playoffs ought to be more competitive, but the playoffs don’t lack competitiveness because the teams are unfairly distributed. Rather too many teams participate and the lower-seeded teams are often not able to put up a fight against their higher-seeded opponents

In the last 10 years, only two No. 8 seeds have knocked off No.1 seeds — the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011, who took down the San Antonio Spurs, and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012, who beat a Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls team.

These games are often foregone conclusions because the real parity in the NBA doesn’t exist between conferences, but rather between the best teams in the league and everyone else.

In the last 10 years, only one team which wasn’t seeded No. 1 through No. 4 has made the Conference finals, the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the 2013 playoffs.

The typical argument for including more teams in the playoffs is that it gives more teams a shot at the championship because they underperformed for various reasons and in a lot of other sports, this proves to be successful. With the NHL — who have recently had a Stanley Cup Champion (the Los Angeles Kings in 2012) and finalist (the Edmonton Oilers in 2006) — who started the playoffs as a No. 8 seed.

But this doesn’t happen in the NBA in the era of super-teams who, by luck in the draft or careful maneuvering in free-agency, are able to consolidate talent in the league.

If the NBA wants to improve the quality of its playoffs, whose unnecessary games have led to career-crippling injuries as they did for Rose, it should consider cutting the number of teams in the playoffs down to eight — four from each conference.

This system, which keeps the conference system intact, making sure teams don’t have to jet across the country for every playoff game, and ensures a more competitive playoffs and a more important regular season. No longer will a sub-.500 team be able to stumble into the playoffs only to put added miles on a team who almost certainly will not lose.

If the NBA truly wants to reform its playoffs to ensure the highest level of competition in the playoffs, it ought to cut out all the filler teams that populate bracket every year and have its best teams shine brightest in consistently competitive matchups.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor, lived in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

Contact Lucas