Is it time to shorten the NBA Playoffs?

The NBA season is a slog. It lasts from late October to mid April and then there’s a further three months of playoffs.

Even for the most diehard fans the eight-month journey from start to finish is tough, and usually accompanied by a number of peaks and troughs in interest.

The argument for shortening the NBA season is brought up often and is generally welcomed by current players (see LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki’s comments before the start of this season), while former greats like Michael Jordan vehemently oppose moving away from an 82-game season.

There seems to be more and more weight behind shortening the regular season, as we see more and more teams resting players for multiple games, making it increasingly unlikely to see a player play all 82 fixtures.

However, would we be more likely to see Steph Curry and LeBron James play every game if we shortened the first and second rounds of the playoffs?

The first round in particular is in dire need of shortening.

Seeing Golden State slaughter New Orleans and Cleveland make Boston look like high schoolers isn’t entertaining, and outside of the finals worthy Spurs and Clippers match-up there wasn’t a lot of great basketball on show.

In this year’s first round only three of the eight series lasted more than five games and only a single series went the full seven games. Even the Western Conference, which had been hyped up as one of the most competitive in NBA history, had only a single series get past five games.

It seems a logical conclusion that we reduce it from a seven-game series to five-game series.

Seeing uncompetitive series finish a game earlier would be welcome, and it would help save us from those annoying moments where a team steals Game 4 only to delay their inevitable elimination until the next fixture.

Shortening the second round would be a much more contentious decision. The semi-finals generally see much longer series and we often see upsets occur here.

This year the semi-finals have been hit and miss though, despite seeing Derrick Rose, Paul Pierce and LeBron James all hit game-winning shots on back-to-back days, there have already been eight games decided by ten points or more.

Some observers might dismiss this year as an anomaly, although in 2014, 13 of the 22 semi-finals games were decided by a double-digit margin and in 2013, 11 of 21 games were decided by such margins.

In fact 2006 was the last time that 50 per cent or more of semi-finals games were decided by less than ten points. Instead of sitting through another round of tedium, the NBA could shorten this round to a five-game series, meaning we arrive at the business end of the playoffs in a much more timely manner.

Team owners would no doubt be furious at the thought of this, citing a loss of money if the playoffs are shortened. You can’t blame them for trying to make as much money as possible because the NBA is, at the end of the day, still a business.

However, how much money would they really lose?

The current structure for a playoff series in the NBA sees teams play two consecutive games in one team’s arena, followed by two more in the other team’s arena. Home court advantage then alternates for the remaining three games.

If the same structure is kept with only Games 6 and 7 removed, teams are only losing one potential home playoff game – a game that most likely would never be played due to the likelihood of the series already being over.

Both players and fans suffer from the excessive amount of games in the schedule, but if only 16 games were removed from the playoffs I think we’d find there would be far less of an excitement drop-off in the first month of the NBA post-season, and that far more eyeballs would be fixated on each game.


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