NBA: How the league can improve on its proposed playoff format

Even though 22 teams are coming back to resume the 2019-2020 NBA season, there are still ways to improve on the league’s proposed return to play plan.

With the NBA set to resume play on July 31 using a 22 team format, basketball fans around the world are rejoicing. Even though this season was unceremoniously interrupted when the coronavirus pandemic swept the United States and the world, most still agreed that a champion should be crowned if possible.

On the bright side, the unprecedented situation the league (and world) is currently going through has allowed commissioner Adam Silver to experiment with some new formats, such as a potential play-in tournament for bubble teams to battle for the eighth and final playoff seed in both conferences.

Unsurprisingly, not every team is happy with the proposed format. One of the more head-scratching decisions involves the league’s decision to have five extra teams compete for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference while only one more in the East, as it seems strange to force teams back into their respected conferences when they’ll all be playing in the same city. With that in mind, I will try and solve some of these issues in order to ensure a more even playing field for the 22 teams set to resume their seasons.

Get rid of conference play

Many fans have wanted to see the league adopt a 1-16 seed playoff format for years since the Western Conference has often been more competitive than the East. With every team playing in the same location, this is the perfect time for the NBA to experiment with this idea. In this scenario, the 1-seed in the entire league gets to play the 16-seed, the 2-seed plays the 15-seed, and so forth.

Getting rid of conference play will ensure a more competitive final, as its more likely to end with the two best teams in the league competing for the title, as opposed to just the best from each conference. This format would mitigate the risk of having a repeat of the 2018 playoffs when the Western Conference finals was a lot more competitive than the actual NBA finals.

A revised play-in tournament

With conference play now gone, the play-in tournament will also see some much-needed changes. There is a significant gap between the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies in the current league-wide standings, as the Grizzlies are seven games behind the Mavericks.

Taking that into consideration, it makes sense to split the NBA into two different camps, with the top 13 teams (up to Dallas) playing eight more regular-season games to determine playoff seeding while the bottom nine squads (Memphis down to the Washington Wizards) compete for the final three postseason spots in a separate play-in tournament.

The Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic currently occupy the remaining three playoffs slots so they should be rewarded with a few games in hand over the six other teams sitting just outside the postseason bubble. They will then face each respective team once so that all the 22 teams resuming the season will play eight games each.

This will raise the stakes of each play-in game since every match will be against an opponent fighting for the same playoff spot. It will also be fairer to the Western Conference squads, as there are no longer five extra teams fighting for the eighth seed.

More importantly, by splitting the league in two and having them play regular season and play-in games at the same time, it mitigates the risk of someone getting COVID-19 since there won’t be a need to hold any more play-in games after every team has competed in eight games, which is a possibility in the real format that the league has implemented.

Potentially playing fewer games will also allow the NBA to have an easier time ending the season on Oct. 12. Furthermore, using this revised setup will still allow all remaining teams to hit the 70 game plateau, which fulfills the league’s promise to regional TV networks.

Overall, this proposed format solves the issue of conference imbalance while ensuring a greater chance that the two best teams in the NBA will meet in the finals. It might also lessen the risk of a player or staff member getting the virus, which will no doubt shut the season down for good.

Even though there are better return to play scenarios that the league could have implemented, basketball fans should still celebrate the resumption of the 2019-2020 season; being able to watch the NBA in whatever shape or form is still better than not watching at all.

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