Jerry Milani
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April 19 - NBA Blues

Somehow the NBA has managed to mess up the only meaningful part of
its season.  Much in the same way that regular season games can be
tuned in for the last, say, four minutes or so, having truly missed next to
nothing 95% of the time, the playoffs, coming after 82 largely
meaningless contests, are the only true watchable product the
Association has to offer.

Being an original Mavericks fan, I have had the good fortune in the past
several years to have a fun, exciting, winning team to cheer for.  Still, I
have seen only a handful of regular season games, but I've tuned in to the
majority of playoff games that have been televised locally before midnight
(fewer than I'd hope...).

I actually like the NBA Playoffs.  Basketball has a completely different feel when teams really push to
win, when every possession is important.  Witness the NCAA Tournament or your local high school's
games for any needed evidence of that.

My issue is, of course, with the playoff format, which allows for the very real possibility that (a) teams
will tank games to gain favorable matchups, and (b) the two best teams in the conference -- and
perhaps the Association -- would meet in the second round.

Unfortunately, both of those scenarios appear to be playing out in the West.

I accept that leagues expand for monetary reasons -- let's not pretend it's for anything else.  The
three-division format has already produced a few undeserving postseason entries like the barely over
.500 San Diego Padres last year and the 9-7 New York Jets a couple of years back.  But worse is the
seeding process that puts the 44-win Nuggets ahead of the 60-plus win Mavs, enabling the sixth and
seventh seeds to have better first-round matchups than the fifth.  It's actually better for the Clippers to
lose their last two games, which is shameful.  As if there weren't enough disincentives for NBA
players these days.

Then, if all goes according to plan, two 60+-win teams would meet in the second round for the first
time in NBA history.  That's great for interest in the Conference semifinals, but one of the marquee
teams is guaranteed to be gone before the final four, when most fans would be tuning in.  For a
league whose marketing savvy helped fuel a meteoric rise in popularity in the past 25 years, this is a
poorly thought out nightmare coming true.

In an ideal world, where money wasn't the prime mover, the problem would be solved with the
dissolution of, say, five teams, to 25.  Maybe demote the bottom-feeders to the NBDL, Premier
League style.  Then, return to two divisions, greatly reducing the likelihood that a team can be seeded
ahead of another that won 16 more games.  This would also place a team that earns the second best
record in the conference at no worse than third, removing it from the line of the No. 1 seed and letting
the Conference Finals be just that -- the matchup between the two best teams.

If we must keep the bloated 30-team, six-division format, then at minimum the NBA should re-seed
for the second round.  Give the Division champs their first-round home advantages, but then use
won-lost record of the remaining teams to determine the Conference semifinal matchups.

With the state of the NBA today, it needs any chance for classic matchups late in the playoffs that it
can get.