Why the NBA Playoffs Should be Formatted Like March Madness

Matt CookContributor IApril 9, 2008

The parity between the Western and Eastern Conferences in the NBA is as unequal as it has ever been. 

Since Jordan’s final retirement, the power has laid in the West.  Before that, the East was the superior conference. 

True, the conferences go through cycles. However, there is no reason we should have good Western teams being replaced with inferior Eastern teams in the playoffs. 

Therefore, I propose the NBA reconfigures their playoffs, implementing two guidelines:

1. Allow all division winners into the playoffs; and from there, choose the next best 10 teams, regardless of conference.

This would allow the teams playing harder competition of the West and having deserving records, like Denver/Golden State and Portland, to get their chance in the playoffs.

The teams being ousted from the playoffs, Toronto and Atlanta, have less wins than these Western teams, even with the benefit of playing the majority of their games against their lesser skilled conference-mates.

On that same note, Atlanta and Toronto are less talented teams, but would be in the playoffs and not receiving a lottery pick. 

So Portland, who already has a skilled young talent base to work from, will get a chance at a high draft pick, while Atlanta and Toronto, will be eliminated in the first round with no chance at a high pick to help them climb out of the bottom ranks of the playoff ladder. 

2. Combine the East and West bracket so the No. 1 overall team is playing the No. 16 overall team and continue seeding it as the NCAA tournament does.

This will take away the advantage the current top East teams (Boston and Detroit) have in two ways. 

First, they will only be able to put their games on automatic for the first round. 

The second round they would find themselves playing teams such as Utah, Dallas, or Phoenix, before getting to the Semi-finals.  Playing those Western teams so early would definitely have an impact on their play in later rounds, if they made it through.

Second, this would allow the top West teams to play lesser competition. 

New Orleans would play Washington and San Antonio would play Cleveland instead of N.O. playing Denver/Golden State and L.A. playing Phoenix/Utah.  This would help give them similar rest to what the top East teams will be getting when they blow by their first round competition.

Aside from evening the competition, it will increase intrigue. 

There are so many more combinations available in this format.  Instead of waiting for the Pistons-Celtics series or hoping for traditional rivalries like the Lakers vs. Spurs to happen, we would be given a greater palette of choices. 

If Phoenix finishes above Utah, we could see Dwight Howard battling Shaq and Amare Stoudamire in the first round.  Or if the Los Angeles finishes ahead of San Antonio, we could see Kobe vs. LeBron for a battle of MVPs.  This format could give rise to new rivalries to embrace.

If the playoffs were to end today, going by the winning percentages, we would have:

1. Boston vs. 16. Portland

2. Detroit vs. 15. Philadelphia

3. New Orleans vs. 14. Portland

4. San Antonio vs. 13. Cleveland

5. Los Angeles vs. 12. Golden State

6. Houston vs. 11. Denver

7. Utah vs. 10. Orlando

8. Phoenix vs. 9. Dallas

And the second round could look like:

Boston vs. Phoenix

San Antonio vs. Los Angeles

Houston vs. New Orleans

Utah vs. Detroit

Maybe March Madness has thrown my brain out of whack.  Maybe I’m just worried that my favorite Western Conference teams will beat each other up, giving Boston or Detroit an easy Finals trophy.

In any case, the NBA playoff system is flawed and taking a page out of the NCAA March Madness might not be so crazy.