THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
The National Basketball Association playoffs begin today (May 18), and after a shorter season of 72 games, down from 82, the postseason has a different look with a play-in tournament to establish the final field.
There has been a lot of talk about shortening the season, as come the last month most teams would have either claimed a place to extend their season, while others lick their wounds and start preparing for the following year. Those on the periphery of having something to play for, to grab the final one or two places, battle hard, and this is where a piece of savvy comes in to help make the end of the regular season more exciting.
The top seeds still jostle for position to ensure home court advantage, although with next to no-one in the arenas it’s really just the players’ home comforts that can make a difference, not the thousands of baying fans that can affect close games. This year the play-in tournament means that the season gets extended to at least four more teams, two each from the East and West conferences, as the list of teams that keep playing goes down to the tenth ranked teams. So, with the top six seeds already confirmed, we still have to wait and see who will fill the seventh and eighth places. This will utilize a formula that has been employed successfully in other sports around the world. It offers a second chance to teams even if they lose their first game of the play-in series. Confused yet? Let’s dig down a bit more.
The teams ranked 7-10 in their conference enter the play-in. 7 will play 8, and 9 faces 10. The winner of the 7v8 game advances straight away to be the 7 seed. The loser gets to play again and faces the winner of the 9v10 game (with the loser of that game going home) then that last game will be played to determine the 8 seed. Clear? Let’s move on.
By the time you read this some teams will already be putting their sneakers away for another summer as the games are set to take place in the middle of this week. In the Eastern Conference the Boston Celtics will play the Washington Wizards in the 7v8 game, and Indiana Pacers face the Charlotte Hornets in the other tie. Over in the Western Conference the current champions Los Angeles Lakers play Golden State Warriors in the 7 seed match, with Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs handling business in the go home match.
The play-in tournament then sets up the complete picture for a standard playoff system. The top seed in each hosting the bottom seed, second hosting the seventh and so on. So, who awaits the winners of the play-in? Well top seed in the East are the Philadelphia 76ers and the second seed Brooklyn Nets, while in the West it is the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns who occupy the one and two spots. The rest of the first-round matchups are already set in stone. Milwaukee Bucks play the Miami Heat, and the New York Knicks contend against the Atlanta Hawks in the East. The West has a series involving Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers, with Los Angeles Clippers facing off against Dallas Mavericks.
All rounds in the postseason will be a best-of-seven series, with the highest seed having home court edge. The first two games in each series have the higher seed at home, followed by them going on the road for the next two, then if required the games alternate venues until one or the other reaches that magical four wins to advance. Should it go to a final and decisive game, the NBA Finals are due to reach a climax on July 22.
The excitement of this new dynamic of the playoffs is not lost on the players and coaches, not least in the Warriors camp as the hot hand of Steph Curry will play in arguably the most anticipated of the early games against the Lakers.
Curry, who finished the season as scoring champ, said: “The first thing I told the guys in the locker room is no matter what anyone says, I appreciate what they’ve all brought to this season because it wasn’t pretty, and it was a steady climb at all even to get to this spot. But I appreciate everybody out there committing to how we play, and that has really unlocked what I do best to try and help myself and help everybody else, especially on the offensive end of the floor.”