While the idea has yet to gain a ton of momentum, there has been talk in recent years about the idea of the NBA re-seeding its playoff teams once the postseason begins, ranking those clubs first through 16th based on overall records, regardless of conference.
For instance, the Clippers have the second-best record in the West this year, but the fourth-best mark in the NBA, so they’d be the No. 4 seed. The Sixers, sixth in the East, would become a No. 12 seed, reflecting their place in the overall NBA standings.
Such a change would help even the playing field if one conference is significantly stronger than the other, as was the case for the Western Conference for much of the 2010s. However, it hasn’t really gained steam due to travel concerns and because it would require approval from the NBA’s Board of Governors — generally, team owners in the weaker conference have a vested interest in keeping the format as is.
However, as the NBA works toward potentially resuming its 2019/20 season, the league could have a unique opportunity to experiment this summer. Two important factors would work in favor of testing the idea of re-seeding playoff teams using a 1-16 system:
- If the NBA resumes play in a single bubble location (ie. Orlando), no travel would be required.
- Eight of the current top 16 teams in the NBA standings are in the Western Conference, while eight are in the East. In other words, if the playoff seeding is tweaked, no current lottery team would make the postseason and no current playoff team would fall out.
During an appearance today on ESPN’s Get Up (video link), Brian Windhorst said he thinks there’s a real chance the NBA could go straight to the postseason if and when it returns, which could open the door for re-seeding the 16 playoff teams. According to Windhorst, league commissioner Adam Silver has long been interested in that concept.
As Windhorst notes, it remains unlikely that two-thirds of the NBA’s owners would be on board with such a format change for the long term. And even this season, there would likely be a number of teams in the East opposed to tweaking the format, since it would make their playoff draw a whole lot more challenging.
Still, if ever there was a time for owners to get on board with a one-off experiment, this would be the year.
Here’s what the playoffs would look like if the teams were re-seeded, regardless of conference, based on their current records:
First side of bracket:
- Bucks (1) vs. Magic (16)
- Heat (8) vs. Thunder (9)
- Clippers (4) vs. Mavericks (13)
- Celtics (5) vs. Sixers (12)
Second side of bracket:
- Lakers (2) vs. Nets (15)
- Jazz (7) vs. Rockets (10)
- Raptors (3) vs. Grizzlies (14)
- Nuggets (6) vs. Pacers (11)
And as a reminder, here’s what the playoffs would look like under the usual format:
- Bucks (1) vs. Magic (8)
- Heat (4) vs. Pacers (5)
- Raptors (2) vs. Nets (7)
- Celtics (3) vs. Sixers (6)
- Lakers (1) vs. Grizzlies (8)
- Jazz (4) vs. Thunder (5)
- Clippers (2) vs. Mavericks (7)
- Nuggets (3) vs. Rockets (6)
While a handful of first-round matchups would be the same regardless of the format the NBA uses, the re-seeding approach would create a handful of interesting inter-conference series, including Heat vs. Thunder, Raptors vs. Grizzlies, Nuggets vs. Pacers, and Lakers vs. Nets.
Things could get very interesting in the second and third rounds of a 1-16 format, with the Clippers potentially having to go through the Celtics and the Bucks before perhaps facing the Lakers in the Finals. The Lakers, on the other hand, might play the winner of a Raptors/Nuggets showdown for the right to advance to the Finals.
What do you think? Is re-seeding the playoff teams a worthwhile experiment, given this year’s unusual circumstances? Or would it be in the NBA’s best interest to stick to its usual postseason format, separating the East and the West until the Finals?
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