Playoff Re-Seeding: Bad for Rivalries
With the imbalance between NBA conferences, there seems to be an increasing sentiment to do away with conference breakdowns in the postseason and just seed the entire playoff pool 1-16.
Count me among those very strongly in opposition, and my argument against can be summed up in one word:
Other than a surpassing individual player like a Jordan, there is nothing more compelling in NBA basketball than a fierce rivalry. How do NBA rivalries develop? Almost always through hotly contested playoff series, and usually through multiple postseason meetings over the course of a few years. Certainly, the best ones develop that way.
For example, here are what I consider to be the best NBA rivalries since 1980, with playoff meetings in parentheses:
- Celtics-Sixers, early 80s (4 playoff series - 80, 81, 82, 85)
- Celtics-Lakers, 80s (3 - 84, 85, 87)
- Celtics-Pistons, late 80s (5 - 85, 87, 88, 89, 91)
- Pistons-Bulls, 80s-90s (4 - 88, 89, 90, 91)
- Bulls-Knicks, 90s (5 - 91, 92, 93, 94, 96)
- Lakers-Kings, early 00s (3 - 00, 01, 02)
These are the creme de la creme - in every case, the rivalry was built upon multiple playoff series, and in five out of six cases, the rivalry was within the same conference.
Here's what I have as some of the next tier of NBA rivalries since 1980: Lakers-Sixers (3 - 80, 82, 83), Knicks-Heat (4 - 97, 98, 99, 00), Kings-Mavs (3 - 02, 03, 04), Spurs-Lakers (5 - 99, 01, 02, 03, 04). In all cases multiple playoff series, and in 3 of 4, it's intraconference.
Am I forgetting a particular rivalry that is more dear to you? I'll bet it was based on multiple playoff series, and also that it was likely an intraconference rivalry.
But if you have one big pool of 16, there is a much lower probability that two particular teams will be matched up then if you divide teams into two distinct pools of eight, as it is now. Of course, there's also a much lower probability that teams will meet up multiple times.
And if there's a much lower probability that teams will meet multiple times in the playoffs, then quite simply there is much lower chance that rivalries will form.
I think that any potential gains by shifting to a 1-16 seed format are minimal compared to what would be lost by reducing the chances of developing great NBA rivalries.