NBA Playoffs: 16 Teams Is Too Many

By Fox Doucette
May. 18, 2017

by Fox Doucette

The 2017 NBA Playoffs are down to their last four teams; three of them are exactly who we expected they would be (Golden State, San Antonio, and Cleveland), and the fourth is not in any way surprising, especially once we saw the matchups after the regular season was done; had Boston been the 2 seed, Toronto would've been a much more viable pick, but that's as far as any controversy could possibly go here.

In the first round, seven higher seeds won their first-round series; the only lower seed to win (Utah) did so in a Game 7 against a team that was without one of its superstars due to injury (the Clippers and Blake Griffin.)

Nobody for one minute seriously believed that Atlanta, Milwaukee, Indiana, Chicago, Memphis, or Portland had a ghost of a chance of making a deep playoff run, and the only reason the Oklahoma City Thunder's chances weren't immediately laughed out of the room is because they have the league's best player—who, by the way, couldn't even challenge the Houston Rockets all by himself.

The closest thing we had to an upset in the second round—the Wizards stretching the Celtics to seven games—involved two star-driven teams holding serve on their home court and Boston just having the benefit of a Game 7 at home.

So why the hell are there 16 teams in the NBA Playoffs? Is anyone benefiting from this?

Even during the regular season, when the East was so wide open that 12 teams had realistic playoff hopes as late as the All-Star Game, the conversation was about Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto, end of list. The discussion out west was Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston, with the Thunder lurking as that “they couldn't really...could they?...naaah” team.

We watched an absolute slog of a first round with a dearth of competitive games; the closest thing we got to a series worth a damn besides that great Jazz-Clips matchup was Indiana getting swept but only losing by an average of four points a game. Nobody, not even in Pacer Nation, believed for half a second that LeBron was losing that series.

So once again...why do we even bother with this crap?

The NBA needs to seriously consider taking a page from football or baseball and reducing the number of teams that make the playoffs. In football, 12 out of 32 teams get in. It is rare for a team that won less than 60 percent of its games (as in going 10-6) to get a spot, and when it happens, it's usually because of football's religious devotion to division titles.

In baseball, 10 of 30 get in; good luck being the second wild card while winning less than 90 ballgames, the equivalent of an NBA team going 46-36 or so.

And now that we take a moment to think about it, 46 wins should be about the average for an NBA team to be considered worth a damn in April, shouldn't it? Going 43-39, as Atlanta did to snag the East's five seed, shouldn't hack it.

So here's my proposal:

We let the top three teams in each conference plus one "wild card" with the best record into the playoffs right up front. Seven teams.

For the other position in the quarterfinals, the spot gets filled by a mini-tournament; the best four teams fight for the “second wild card” in a one-game winner-take-all format.

On Friday, four teams meet. On Sunday, the winners of Friday's games meet, and the winner makes the playoffs. The top record of the two "wild card" teams we therefore select gets the four seed against the weaker conference winner; the weekend tournament winner gets the 4 in the stronger conference's playoffs, regardless of geography.

So this year, for example, on the last day of the regular season, Boston, Cleveland, Toronto, Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, and the Clippers? In. The Jazz, Wizards, Thunder, and Hawks (who get the tiebreak over Memphis based on record against their own conference)? Oh, tell me you wouldn't watch the hell out of that over the weekend, huh?

Can you imagine John Wall taking on Steph Curry in the playoffs without the Wizards having to make the Finals? Or Doc Rivers taking on Boston, which would've been the matchup under this system? And all that without having to watch the boring, overwrought first round that took two weeks before we got to the “real” playoffs?

With all that extra time saved, you could tack two weeks onto the regular season and cut down on back-to-backs and other “schedule losses”, and if you eliminated part of the preseason, you could stretch the regular campaign by a month, all while getting straight to the fun part of the playoffs sooner and having “instant Game 7, just add water” in Round 1.

Go ahead. Tell me the downside.