Sunday, April 22, 2012

NBA Needs New Playoff Rules

You know the NBA playoff system is broken when the HEAT choose to rest LeBron James and lose to the Wizards at home when they were supposed to be fighting for the #1 seed. Here's one proposal for a solution to the "maintenance programs", poor efforts and garbage time that fuck up the NBA regular season.

The Division Titles Solution

Chris Bosh got off to a good start in the 1st game vs. Hawks this season, but he had a poor finish that should cost the HEAT the division title after their loss to the Wizards.

Division titles are the biggest problems for the NBA playoffs. The NBA tried to give them meaning by granting division winners a top four seed but it took away all meaning by giving home-court advantage to a team with the best record, regardless of seeding.

The NFL has it right - division winners should have home advantage in the playoffs. Where the NFL, and every other league, has it wrong is how they choose division winners. The division winner should be the team with the best record against the other teams in the division! Doesn't that make sense?

In this new system, division games matter a lot. That would have two positive impacts on the NBA:
  1. Fans would be guaranteed the best players would be on the floor more often since the majority of a team's games are played in the division
  2. Teams could build their rosters to compete with their division opponents' strengths and weaknesses to get better, faster. It's easier to build a team that can compete with four others instead of 29 others.

If this system with extra weight on division games was in place last night, the HEAT wouldn't have been able to afford resting LeBron James because a division title and top 3 seed in the playoffs would have been on the line. Before last night's game, the HEAT were 9-3 vs. the Southeast Division and the Hawks were 11-3 (a 1 game lead). In this new system, the HEAT would need to beat the Wizards twice to win the division. They would win a tie-breaker with the Hawks since the HEAT have the better head-to-head record.

Here's a list a of proposed tie-breakers for division titles:
  1. Head-to-head record
  2. Winning percentage vs. playoff teams in division
  3. Net points, division
  4. Net points, head-to-head
  5. Conference record
  6. Winning percentage vs. playoff teams in conference
  7. Net points vs. conference
  8. Overall record
  9. Net points, all games
The spreadsheet below illustrates how the NBA's division standings would look under this new system.

Under this system, the division winners in the East would be the Knicks (Atlantic), Bulls (Central) and Hawks (Southeast). Those teams would also be given the top 3 seeds, which is a big change from the current playoff system that has the Bulls, HEAT and Pacers as the top 3 seeds.

Now that the division title problem is fixed, there's one more issue that needs to be addressed for the playoffs.

Conference Records Should Matter, Too

The HEAT's conference record would have them facing Rondo in the 1st round of this new playoff system.

It makes no sense for the Eastern Conference playoffs to be determined based on overall record, which is determined by how well teams play against the Western Conference. The Eastern Conference playoffs should be seeded based on division titles and conference records.

This new system would eliminate the HEAT and Bulls resting all-stars like Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh in late season matchups. Under the current system, the HEAT trail the Bulls by 2.5 games. That's a big deficit to overcome with only 4 games left. Under the proposed system, the HEAT (35-11 vs. East) only trail the Bulls (36-10 vs. East) by 1 game in the conference standings.

Oh yeah - if the HEAT beat the Wizards last night, they'd be tied with the Bulls for the best record vs. the Eastern Conference. Here are the proposed tie-breakers for conference titles:
  1. Division title
  2. Head-to-head record
  3. Winning percentage vs. playoff teams in conference
  4. Net points, conference
  5. Net points, head-to-head
  6. Overall record
  7. Winning percentage vs. Playoff teams in other conference
  8. Net points, all games
The HEAT would be first in the conference based on the 3rd tie-breaker under this new system if they didn't throw away the game against the Wizards on Saturday night.

The spreadsheet below shows how the conference playoffs would look under this new system.

2012 NBA Playoffs: Reloaded

If the 2012 playoffs started today, here's how the playoff matchups would look under the system proposed in this article:


(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Philadelphia 76ers
(4) Miami HEAT vs. (5) Boston Celtics
(3) New York Knicks vs. (6) Orlando Magic
(2) Atlanta Hawks vs. (7) Indiana Pacers

The biggest change in the Eastern Conference under this new system is the seeding:
  • The HEAT get the Celtics in the first round, which puts their season in perspective. The team that began the season with the best odds of winning the NBA title couldn't even have a better record in its division than the Atlanta Hawks. Sad.
  • The Knicks could actually win a series in this new system, since they blew out the Magic when Dwight Howard was playing and he's out for the playoffs. 
  • It also puts the Pacers' season in perspective. Only the Sixers and Knicks have a worse record than the Pacers vs. the Eastern Conference.


(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Utah Jazz
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Phoenix Suns

The biggest change in the Western Conference under this new system is that the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets don't make the playoffs, which is what I've said in the Western Conference Fanalyst Rankings for weeks now.

Under this new system, the HEAT's path to the title changes from Knicks (1st round), Pacers (ECS), Celtics (ECF) and Thunder (Finals) to Celtics (1st round), Bulls (ECS), Hawks (ECF) and Thunder (Finals). It's a tougher road to take, but that's the point. 

This new system would give the HEAT incentives to avoid a tougher path to the title if they played harder to win more games in the regular season.

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