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Improving the NBA Playoffs

The NBA could offer a better product to its fans with a few small changes to its post-season.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

'm a man.  I like to fix things.  It's what I do.  And given the power, I'd fix the NBA.  I've written before how I'd fix the NBA All-Star Weekend.  Today my focus is on another problem that has dogged the NBA for years - the playoffs.

The first way the NBA needs to improve is how it delivers playoff games to fans, and it could learn a lot from the NCAA men's basketball tournament that is underway.  The past couple of years the NCAA has been knocking it out of the park with online streaming and making everything available on multiple platforms.  Last week I watched a game go down to the wire on my phone sitting outside of a restaurant.  I've kept games on in the background on my second screen at the office.  I've streamed games with my headphones on at a local coffee shop.  I can get the NCAA games - all of them - anywhere I go now.  And I like it.  A LOT.  It has significantly increased my viewership - which is valuable to selling ads.  The NBA could and should be doing this as well.  If I want to watch one game on my phone, one on my laptop, and another on my TV, let it be.  If I want to put my phone in a ziplock bag and stream a game while I shower at the gym, make it happen.  With the ever increasing availability of quality data, there's no reason that every game shouldn't be readily and freely accessible to NBA across the country.

The second thing I'd institute as a change is 4 days off after the final regular season game before the opening game of round one.  Yes, injuries are part of the game, teams must adapt and overcome to be successful.  But we'd get a better first round if everyone was able to get a bit of rest and do a bit of extra planning and film watching.  If the guys on the team made it through the season, I want them recharged and ready to go full out in the first round, and guaranteed rest will help that come to pass.  Currently the last games are played April 15, and the first round begins April 18th, which could give some teams only 2 days off.  I'd prefer to see teams playing guys down the stretch a bit more knowing they'll get some rest leading into the playoffs.  Coach Popovich will still sit his guys no matter what, but others in tighter races will be inclined to push a bit further with the down time assured.

Along with the time off up front, I want to change the format of the order of the games.  Currently the NBA employs a 2-2-1-1-1 system of determining which game is played where.  That system needs to be kicked to the curb.  Too much travel, too drawn out, and not enough home court advantage.  The NBA needs to move over to a 3-3-1 system.  Give the top seeded teams 3 games at home to start things off.  That's a real home court advantage.  But you still require them to win on the opponent's home court if they want some extra time off.  This is a sizable incentive for the #5-6 seeded teams in the last portion of the regular season to figure out how to move up to #4.  This system also reduces team travel so we don't have early rounds drawing out over 15+ days.  I would make one exception to this, and that would be for the finals. I'd keep the 2-2-1-1-1 format there, but only for that round.

I would also work to compress the number of days the first rounds take by making games 1 & 2 and 4 & 5 as back-to-back games and then give a day off before games 3, 4, 6 and 7.  So you could start a round on Thursday with game one, Friday game 2, Saturday day off, Sunday game 3, Monday day off (and travel), Tuesday game 4, Wednesday game 5, Thursday day off, Friday game six, Saturday day off (and travel), and finally game 7 on Sunday.  I'd guarantee 3 days off between rounds on top of that, so again, players are starting off each round at full capacity.  If you win your first round in 4 or 5 games, you can get a fair stretch of time off in this system, which should help for healing and planning - again incentive to take care of your business early.

The final component, and one that has been talked about for years, and even has been spoken to directly this season by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, is the restructuring of what teams get into the playoffs.  As it stands today, Boston at 31-40 will be the #8 seed in the East.  It is highly likely that 3 teams from the East with a losing record will make it into the postseason.  Where in the West, at least 2 teams with a winning record won't make it into the playoffs at all.  And the thing that makes it all the more significant is when you compare strength of schedules (SOS) on top of it.  Phoenix sits in the #9 spot in the West currently with a SOS of 0.6534 - the toughest in all of the NBA, and they've had a winning record despite that.  Playing in the East, there's a strong argument that could be made that the Suns should be the #4 seed with an adjusted SOS.  I don't see the NBA going so far as to weigh SOS, but they could readily put the top 16 teams by record in the playoffs at the very least.  If the goal is to see who is the best team, at the end of the regular season take the best team and pair them off with the 16th seeded team regardless of conference.  Continue this on down through the seeding.  With the added time off I've offered above, this becomes quite doable.  I'd even entertain adding an extra day for travel after games 3 and 6 if it would close the deal.

Going 1 vs. 16 would make a HUGE impact on the first round of the playoffs.  How much more would the Golden State Warriors (best record in the NBA currently) rather face the Boston Celtics in a 7 game series over their current matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder?  By making this change, it adds more incentive to push for a win in the regular season.

I think just a few changes would result in a better product and would better engage the fans of the NBA.  What changes would you make to the playoffs for the NBA?  Where am I off base?