The 2016-’17 NBA regular season concludes today, and the weekend brings the Association’s second season. And, no, “second season is not just a folksy way of describing the NBA Playoffs.
From Game 1 of the opening rounds to a hypothetical Game 7 of the Finals, the NBA Playoffs occupy two full months of the calendar year; 64 days, to be exact. That’s roughly 70 percent the length of the college football season, more than half the length of the NFL regular season and ample time for the Cincinnati Reds to be mathematically eliminated from Playoff contention in Major League Baseball.
This two-month journey (eventually) marks the conclusion for an 82-game regular season, which tips off a half-year before the NBA Playoffs ever begin. Some context to illustrate just how long ago this season began, and what a much simpler time it was:
• Texas A&M was ranked in the Top 10 and considered a viable contender for the College Football Playoff
• The Chicago Cubs were still in the midst of a 108-year World Series championship drought
• The Leader of the Free World was not a reality TV fixture who, just a decade earlier, was taking Stone Cold Stunners at WrestleMania
Much has changed since the NBA’s 2016-’17 campaign began, and it’s still two freakin’ months from conclusion. There has to be a better way…and there is. Wouldn’t you know, I’m the man with the plan for the NBA Playoffs and its regular season.
1. Revert Round 1 to a Best-of-5
First, a confession: I am a college basketball journalist (and lifelong college basketball fan) who happens to also love the NBA. Yes, such creatures exist; we may be as rare as the Northern white rhino, right down to one of the few remaining living in North County San Diego (that’s me!). But we do exist.
I can regale you with memories of watching Tom Chambers and Xavier McDaniel ball for the Phoenix Suns in the dingy, old Veterans Memorial Coliseum. My dad’s storage locker is filled with Skybox and Fleer basketball cards. My wife and I are in the process of moving, and it’s led to the discover of numerous Starting Lineup figures.
— Kyle Kensing (@kensing45) April 10, 2017
That’s a necessary preface, because the NBA Playoffs and just-concluded NCAA Tournament offer an interesting juxtaposition. Like clockwork every March, casual basketball fans are drawn en masse to the NCAA Tournament. And, just as inevitably, a not-insignificant portion of the NBA blogger population whines about the inferiority of the college game.
Here’s the secret from someone who enjoys both styles of basketball: It isn’t the quality of play that attracts millions. The unpredictable nature of the NCAA Tournament makes for enthralling television. Think of it like a good miniseries, spanning a few days each week for three weeks. It’s easily consumable theater.
Compare that to the NBA Playoffs, which feature a game every night for almost two months. It requires an investment from the viewer that’s becoming more difficult to make each year. And in the early rounds — particularly Round 1 — it’s a two-week investment without much in the way of drama.
The NBA Playoffs can engender emotions similar to those seen during March Madness — but typically not until the later rounds. We’re well into May once the true theatrics customary of a postseason take hold, once the lower seeds are dispatched. These lower seeds — teams this year like Portland and Chicago — feel like dead-weight in the NBA Playoffs.
Lower seeds give the NCAA Tournament their character, conversely. Credit that to those Cinderellas filling a role beyond just cable TV inventory.
Gather ’round, children, and let Old Man Kensing tell you about a time the NBA Playoffs tipped off closer to Mother’s Day than Easter. ‘Twas a magical time when First Round matchups didn’t require weeks before reaching an inevitable conclusion. The old Best-of-5 format presented lower seeds greater opportunity for upset, but also struck a compromise between the one-and-done chaos of the NCAA Tournament.
Some of the NBA Playoffs’ greatest moments came as a result of the Best-of-5. In 1993, the 62-win Phoenix Suns lost back-to-back home games to the eight-seed Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns needed three straight wins to advance — and head coach Paul Westphal guaranteed they’d get them.
A year later, the 63-win Seattle Supersonics weren’t so fortunate. Their opening-round loss to the Denver Nuggets provided one of the Playoffs’ most iconic moments, and launched Dikembe Mutombo’s star.
2. Begin the Regular Season on Christmas Day
Tipping off the week of Halloween relegates the NBA behind football — which is ramping up by late October — and baseball, now that the World Series begins later every season. It sets a bad tone for the Association.
By contrast, the NBA owns Christmas Day. College football avoids Christmas, college basketball’s lone game is in the Diamondhead Classic, and the NFL only has games if Dec. 25 falls on the weekend. Otherwise, the NBA dominates. It’s perfect for starting the season with a bang akin to college football on Labor Day weekend, or the NFL in mid-September.
My favorite regular season of recent memory was 2011-’12, which opened on Christmas Day. The beginning of a new season made the unofficial Basketball Holiday feel that much more special. It was also the result of a shortened season, which leads to…
3. Shorten the Regular Season to 58 Games
Despite commission Adam Silver’s protests, I am an advocate of stars resting before the NBA Playoffs.
It’s unfortunate for fans who buy a ticket expecting to see an opponent’s best when they come to town, but resting is a strategic move coaches have to make to prepare for the Playoffs. Such is the folly of having a two-month postseason follow a six-month regular season.
The solution is quite simple: reduce the length of the season.
I understand it’s a pie-in-the-sky suggestion, as NBA owners will never go for a reduction of revenue stream. But this plan rolls out with the understanding I have complete authority, so let’s set aside dollars to focus on sense.
A 58-game regular season is far less physically taxing, removing one needed for resting stars. This also addresses the other issue, as an 82-game season widens the gap between top teams and the rest of the Association. Golden State can afford to rest Klay Thompson, for example, because it’s seeding is in no jeopardy.
A shorter season begets a more competitive season.
Fifty-eight is the perfect number. The season begins on Dec. 25, and the regular season wraps in mid-May — that’s roughly five months, averaging about 12 games per month, or three per week.
With the Playoffs starting about a month later, the Finals will have to move back ever-so-slightly — but only by a week-and-a-half. Any and all NBA Finals Game 7s will be played during the day on July 4.
Start on a holiday, end on a holiday.
As for the 58 games between Dec. 25 and July 4, the entire Association plays a double-round robin, home-and-home against each of the other 29 teams. It’s perfectly symmetrical.
Speaking of perfect, there you have the three main tenets of a perfect plan for the NBA Playoffs.