The Playoff Dilemma of the NBA

It’s mid-March, which means the NCAA tournament is starting up. However, it also means that the NBA playoff race really starting to kick in and teams are fighting for one of the final spots in the post-season. It has become a rather tight race in the Western Conference, with nine teams fighting for eight spots. While in the East, there are four teams fighting for their playoff lives and that last spot.

There’s a concerning problem though. While this seems to be a great fight to the finish, how is it possible that likely a team that’s ten games under .500 going to make it to the playoffs, while two teams that are over .500 going to be going to the lottery? This might seem rather odd and requires a bit of explanation. As of Tuesday night’s games, fighting for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference is New Jersey (29-39), who currently holds that last seed, Atlanta (29-39), Chicago (27-40), and Indiana (27-41). While in the Western Conference, Denver (40-28) is slowly losing their opportunity to get the last seed from Golden State (42-25).

Doesn’t it seem the least bit unusual to see Denver with such a solid record miss out and the potential that Indiana with the worst record possibly make it? If Denver was in the Eastern Conference, they would be fighting for the third seed in the conference right now with Orlando. Portland (35-33), the team with the worst record over .500, is out of the playoff picture because they’re in the tough Western Conference. Sports purists might be objecting and screaming, “What kind of fraud is this to have complete legitimate contenders watching from their homes, while horrible teams somehow get the opportunity to extend their season and play for the championship?” There’s even been some thoughts of reseeding for the playoffs… But you can’t do that.

That is how the NBA works. Geographical conferences have made this possible. And unfortunately, there is no way to prevent it from not happening, regardless of how much revision to the playoff rules and format.

The reason is this. Because of the way that the conferences are formed, it is only fair that Eastern Conference teams play Eastern Conference teams and Western Conference teams play Western Conference teams, regardless of how imbalanced they are. If they were to seed the top sixteen teams and do the playoffs that way, it would not be fair if there was the case that a team would have to travel to play a team from the other conference for their playoff series. The amount of traveling is far worse than if they were to travel within their conference. Teams are already having to travel at least once during a playoff series, but traveling cross-country in the first round is not in their best interests.

The other problem is that it defeats the tradition of the league. The point of the NBA championship is that the best team from the West and the best from the East meets up for the final showdown. What would happen if they reseeded and two teams from the same conference were to meet in the NBA finals? Then what was the point of having conferences in the first place if you’re meeting up in the Finals anyway? It’s just a waste.

It creates a lot of issues and complications to reseed for the sake of the playoffs and completely disregard the conferences or even to find a way to make sure that the best sixteen teams play each other, but still remain as close to those conferences as possible. If there was a way to realign the conferences to make it work out or a playoff system that remained in their conferences to keep the significance of them in the first place, then I would say talk to the commissioner and propose the idea. But the problem is that there isn’t a way to do so without giving another team a complete advantage over another. But to break the tradition and structure of the playoffs that has worked so well, that would defeat the entire NBA structure.

It will be sad to see the Blazers fail to make it to the playoffs despite their pretty good record and young squad in such a tough conference, unless there is another thirteen game winning streak to finish off the season. It will be hard to fathom the thought of either Golden State or Denver not making it either, but one of those four teams in the East making it too. However, there is nothing that can be done to make it fair for one of the two teams in the West to make it.

All that NBA fans can hope for is that whoever is the last seed in the East gives Boston a run for its money and shows that they deserve to be in there as much as Denver or Golden State. A series sweep would just provide more ammo for idealists that want a complete restructure of the system.

Let’s just hope this post-season is as good as the playoff race that is going on right now and not a complete anti-climatic ending.

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