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Why the NBA Puts Every Other Sport's Playoffs to Shame

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Why the NBA Puts Every Other Sport's Playoffs to Shame
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The first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs gave fans a little bit of everything. Round 1 featured two sweeps, five Game 6s (including four in one day), one Game 7 and three upsets based on seeding. The second round of the NBA playoffs saw two game-winning shots and two upsets after four games played.

While basketball may not be everyone’s favorite sport, the NBA playoffs put the postseason of every other major sport to the test in terms of excitement and impact.

 

Baseball

After a grueling and lengthy 162-game regular season, Major League Baseball only used to send eight total teams to the playoff picture. It wasn’t until last season that the league decided to add a Wild Card play-in game to add some additional stakes. However, even with that change, the MLB postseason only added one potential playoff contender in the American League and another in the National League.

Simply based upon the amount of playoff teams and the amount of games played, the NBA has the edge here. The NBA sends 16 teams to the postseason compared to just 10 teams in baseball.

If you ask me, Major League Baseball needs to sort out its priorities. Their league plays 162 regular season games to determine just 10 playoff teams. Fans would only get to see 43 postseason games maximum if every series went to a Game 5 or Game 7.

Relative to the NBA, which plays 82 games to decide 16 playoff teams, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So few teams in baseball are rewarded for playing that tough 162-game schedule. In basketball, you sometimes get to learn what lesser teams (and upstart players) are made of.

Additionally, compared to the fast-paced, back-and-forth games played in basketball, baseball sometimes doesn’t have the same allure.

Even if you’re a fan of pitcher’s duels, sitting through a three- to four-hour game that gets through nine innings with a 0-0 score can be excruciating. Winning a game in the bottom of the ninth or extra innings provides similar excitement to a game-winning shot in basketball. However, I'd argue that the pressure facing NBA players is much greater.

Both sports need players to step up big in clutch moments. However, if Mike Trout strikes out in a 0-0 extra-inning game, he simply goes back to the dugout and cheers on the next batter. If Kevin Durant attempts a potential game-tying or game-winning shot at the buzzer and misses, there's nobody on deck to pick him up.

The finality of a last-second shot, especially in the NBA playoffs, simply adds more tension.

 

Football

Even though the NFL is the most popular major sport in the United States, the postseason comparison favors the NBA.

There’s no denying that the Super Bowl is one of the most popular sporting events period. However, the overall playoff package offered by the NBA has the edge over the NFL.

In the NFL's winner-takes-all one-game format, sometimes there's a sense that the "best" team didn't come out on top. In the NBA, because every series is decided by a best-of-seven format, that argument falls by the wayside.

As fans, if our team wins the whole enchilada, we don't want other fans belittling that fact. This manages to come to the surface in the NFL when referencing the 2007-08 New England Patriots. Despite finishing 16-0 during the regular season in a quest to finish an unprecedented 19-0 by winning the Super Bowl, the Pats were knocked off by Eli Manning and the underdog New York Giants.

Certainly give credit to the Giants here, but if that Super Bowl was played 10 times, how many times would New England have won? Also, how amazing would it have been if the underdog Giants won an entire series from New England, instead of just one game?

The one-game format can certainly be exciting, but having a seven-game series in each round adds more value to upsets in the NBA playoffs. Also, you truly get the sense that the winning team had the better roster. That could be for matchup reasons or otherwise.

Also, the NBA’s major stars are more recognizable and, thus, more important to their league when compared with the NFL’s stars. I wrote about this topic in depth last year, and it remains difficult to argue that the NFL’s star players are more popular when compared to the NBA.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
With just five players on the court at one time in basketball, maximum effort needs to be displayed on every play.

Additionally, an NBA roster consists of just 12 players. Usually, only about seven to nine of those guys get regular court time in the playing rotation. By comparison, the final roster in the NFL gets cut to 53 total players. Rarely, if ever, will those 53 guys get credit for the overall product on the field.

 

The responsibility for each NFL player with a roster spot is huge, but it can’t compare to the NBA, which is constantly playing a more personalized five-on-five.

In the NBA playoffs, it's not unusual to see guys playing all 48 minutes. All basketball players play offense and defense. Well, except for the 2010 Phoenix Suns.

Finally, the pace of the NBA often allows for frequent scoring binges. In football, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and others have to put together long drives in order to put points on the board. Those drives can sometimes leech eight or more minutes off the game clock. They can even end with a disappointing three-point field goal or, worse, a whiffed kick resulting in no points for all the effort.

 

Hockey

Let me preface this section by saying that if any sport’s playoffs can compete with the NBA’s, hockey and the NHL is that sport/league. Playoff hockey has the tension and up-tempo pace to compete with the NBA, but one key factor holds the NHL back in my opinion.

Hockey keeps fans on the edge of their seats with odd-man rushes, power plays and juicy rebound chances, but the appeal of an upset in hockey is severely diminished when compared to the NBA.

In the NBA, a No. 8 seed toppling a No. 1 seed truly means something. It’s only happened five times in the history of the league, and only three times did it occur in a seven-game series.

The Denver Nuggets became the first No. 8 seed to pull off the monumental upset in 1994, when they shocked the championship-poised Seattle SuperSonics. Even though Denver finished with a lackluster 42-40 record during the regular season, they beat the Sonics 3-2 in their five-game series.

The New York Knicks made it happen five years later in 1999 by upsetting the No. 1 seed Miami Heat. However, due to a lockout-shortened season that many believe skewed playoff seeding, this “eight over one” upset has been marginalized a bit. For further context, the eight-seed Knicks went on to the NBA Finals that year, so perhaps they shouldn’t be consider a “true” No. 8.

The David vs. Goliath NBA equivalent had never occurred in a best-of-seven series prior to the 2007 Golden State Warriors.

The Dubs finished the season with the same record as the ’94 Nuggets, 42-40. In fact, they didn’t even qualify for the playoffs until the final day of the season.

Nobody gave the Warriors a chance to beat the juggernaut Dallas Mavericks, and for good reason. Dirk Nowitzki, winner of the Most Valuable Player award in 2007, led the charge for the Mavs, a team that finished with a phenomenal 67-15 record.

As it turned out, the athleticism of Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Jason Richardson, coupled with the enthusiasm of the crowds in Oakland, was too much for Dallas. Miraculously, the Warriors didn’t even have to go the distance, as they ended this series in six games.

It also occurred in 2011 when the No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies (who were still great at 10 games over .500 on the season) beat the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs, who were struggling through injuries.

Finally, the Philadelphia 76ers upset the No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls last year, but it was mostly attributed to the ACL tear sustained by Chicago's best player, Derrick Rose.

Compare the rarity of an upset of that magnitude in the NBA to the NHL, and there’s no contest. The splendor of a No. 8 seed beating a No. 1 seed in hockey has been diminished nearly to the point of casual happenstance.

The eight-over-one upset happened in the NHL playoffs in 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2012.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As if that isn’t alarming enough, the Los Angeles Kings actually managed to win the 2012 Stanley Cup as an eight seed. The Kings got hot at the right time and rode a truly zoned-in goalie (Jonathan Quick) all the way to the Cup.

If you’re a sports fan who hates upsets, your team was either toppled as a heavy favorite or you hate fun. I commend the competitive balance in the NHL because that’s what sports are all about. But upsets are simply more rare and special in the NBA playoffs.

 

Casual and die-hard fans alike will always support different sports for different reasons. While that's true, the NBA playoffs makes a strong case for itself when compared with other worthy sport's playoffs.

 

What sport do you think has the best postseason? What's your favorite postseason moment? Leave your answers in the comment section below!

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