(NNPA) The NBA is discussing eliminating the guaranteed playoff spot that accompanies division winners, and moving to a new structure that would award playoff berths to the eight teams in the Eastern and Western conferences with the best records.

That potential move would remove the automatic bump that division winners receive in playoff seeding; currently, the four division winners are assured placement within the top four seeds in each conference. The current system can be a gift for fans, but a curse for the players. Basketball fans were treated to a first-round matchup last summer between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers, despite both teams having already squared off against each other on the last night of the regular season in competition for the West’s second seed.

Both the Spurs and the Clippers had better records than the Portland Trailblazers, who opened the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. However, the Spurs entered the playoffs as the No. 6 seed because they didn’t win their division. San Antonio and Los Angeles delivered one of the most exciting series of the playoffs, but critics of the playoff seeding system maintained that the two high-powered teams met too early in the postseason. Should the NBA redo their playoff format? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.

Riley: I like the current format the way it is. Teams should be rewarded for winning their own division. Winning their division is every team’s first priority in several different sports, so why not guarantee a division winner a playoff berth? In the regular season, division rivals will play each other four times, and it’s only appropriate to reward the team that was able to withstand the rigors of their division. The Spurs were clearly a better team overall than the Blazers last year, but no team was better than Portland in their own division, and they were recognized for that.

Green: Taking away that automatic top-four seed for division winners is fair when you’re factoring in the regular season. You have to account for teams that pile up wins in the regular season, but might not be placed in the top four playoffs slots because a team in their own division had a similar campaign. Hypothetically, a team could finish the regular season with 66 wins, but place second in their own division to a team with 67 wins. Under the current system, the team with 66 wins might be seeded lower in the playoffs than a third team that won their division with just 50 wins. That doesn’t translate well, in my opinion. Surviving the regular season is more of a grind than winning a division. Preparing and winning against unfamiliar teams is a much more impressive feat, all things considered.

Riley: It’s easier to get away with certain plays and strategies when two teams are seeing each other for the first or second time in a season. In the playoffs, teams advance if they are able to tally four wins against the same opponent in a seven-game series. So why not reward a team that is able to prevail in repeated regular season matchups against the same division opponents? Removing the guaranteed playoff spot deals a major blow to the importance of winning a division. If the NBA is going to remove that guarantee, why not remove divisions altogether, and just let teams compete to be among the top 8 in the Eastern and Western conferences? NBA commissioner Adam Silver could be opening a box of worms if he changes the current playoff structure.

Green: The Association could flourish if the divisions are eliminated. There would be better and more diverse rivalries, more exposure for fans and players and less predictable games. If three games between the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks in a given season have been 20-point blowouts, then it’s safe to say what the outcome of Game Four will look like. How much better would basketball be if Washington replaced four annual games against the lowly Knicks with four games facing off against division-leading Chicago, for example? I don’t have a problem with seeing the winningest teams compete against each other. Silver appears set on moving away from the guaranteed playoff spots and I think the NBA will be better because of it.


By Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), known as the Black Press of America, is the federation of more than 200 Black community newspapers in the United States.