For quite some time now, there’s been talk amongst NBA circles of changing the way the playoffs are seeded. Here are three scenarios regarding how this could be done:
1. The two conferences merge once the regular season ends, and the top 16 teams in the NBA make the playoffs. The playoffs would then be seeded 1 to 16.
2. The top 8 teams of each conference make the playoffs like normal, and only then do the two conferences merge, based on the teams that advanced. The playoffs are then seeded 1 to 16 according to the records of the existing teams.
3. Finally, there’s the possibility of reseeding the playoffs only after the first round. In this scenario, the playoffs would kick off the way it always has, go through the first round, and only after all that cross conference lines and reseed based on record in order to create the most optimal NBA finals.
But regardless over the logistics of how it would all work, the important thing to discuss here is the underlying reason behind it all. For the last two decades there’s been somewhat of an imbalance of power between the West and the East. Just based on NBA Finals victories alone, the West is beating the East 14 titles to 6 since the 1998-1999 season. And with the Golden Warriors dominating the league, the West doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
When there’s a conference that’s much better than the other, it presents a multitude of problems. Take the 2018 NBA playoffs for example: The Denver Nuggets didn’t even make it in at ninth place in the West, and they had 46 wins. Compare that to the Eastern Conference, whose 6th seed team, the Miami Heat, only had 44 wins. You can see how that might get aggravating for a team like Denver who knows their record was top 16 in the league. In the first scenario I presented, Denver would’ve made the playoffs.
Then there’s the whole factor that the NBA Finals should optimized to its full potential. In each of the scenarios I presented, this issue would get resolved. For the last couple decades, it’s been pretty common for the “real series” to be the Western Conference Finals. This isn’t always the case, but it certainly has been many times. Consider the historical Lakers-Kings Western conference series in 2002 overshadowing the Lakers sweep the Nets in the Finals a week later. Or how about as recent as the 2018 playoffs, where Houston took Golden State to 7 games in the Conference Finals – only to have Golden State sweep Cleveland a week later in the actual Finals.
But with all of that being said… here’s why I don’t think the playoffs should be changed. It’s because the all consuming rivalry between the West and the East is one of the things that makes the league so compelling. Not only that, but the tide of the NBA is always shifting, albeit slowly. The West hasn’t always been on top, and they certainly won’t always be. Chicago practically dominated the 90s. The Celtics literally couldn’t be stopped in the 60s. Oh, and by the way, the East has the edge over the West in titles throughout NBA history, 38-34. You never know when the East might strike back.
In conclusion… don’t change a thing. There’s power in tradition, and we think the standard NBA playoff format is one of the keepers.