NBA playoffs: Postseason offers parity and purity

Golden State’s Stephen Curry reacts after making a 3-pointer against Portland in Game 2 of an opening-round series. (Photo by Ezra Shaw /Getty Images)
BY JOE KNOWLES

Chicago Tribune

April 21, 2017

Parity or purity? Good thing or bad thing? Call it what you like, but the NBA doesn’t seem concerned by the fact that No. 1 or No. 2 seeds win an overwhelming majority of the league’ titles.

When someone points out that No. 1 or No. 2 seeds have won 10 of the last 12 championships — the other two were won by No. 3 seeds — the NBA counters by saying that the league has had six different champs in the past seven seasons.

“Over a 82-game season, the best teams rise to the top,” NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum said Thursday at the league’s annual meeting with a group of sports editors.

Based on that logic, it only figures that those teams prevail in the postseason. That’s purity.

“The top teams win,” Tatum said, “but it’s not the same top teams.”

And there’s your parity.

In the other major sports, top seeds aren’t nearly as dominant in the playoffs, and bottom seeds even win an occasional championship. In the NFL, six wild-card teams have won the Super Bowl. Six wild-card teams have won the World Series, including three in a row from 2002-2004. The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed in 2012.

A No. 8 seed has never won an NBA title and only one — the Knicks in the strike-shortened 1998-99 season — has ever reached the Finals.

“In the NHL, a hot goalie can win a series,” said Tim Frank, NBA senior vice president of communications. “In baseball, a hot pitcher can pitch three times in a series. And the NFL is single-elimination,” which is inherently unpredictable.

“One player (in the NBA) can’t guard the basket (like a goalie),” Frank said.

So is predictability a positive or a negative?

Lisa Borders, president of the WNBA, thinks a little unpredictability is good, at least for the women’s league. It’s one of the reasons the WNBA adopted a new playoff system last year, placing the league’s top eight teams in the postseason, regardless of conference. The top two seeds get a bye to the semifinals; first- and second-round games single elimination and the teams are re-seeded after each round.

“We’re at a different stage of our development,” Borders said, noting that the WNBA is about 50 years younger than its “big brother,” the NBA. But she added that the new format created a lot of excitement around the league and helped boost attendance and TV ratings.

Would the NBA ever consider a conference-neutral 1-through-16 tournament?

“We looked at that,” said Tatum, “but the problem is travel.” The potential to have four series’ worth of cross-country flights would be grueling for the players, he said.

“So we decided to table the issue … maybe when we get faster planes and you can fly from Portland to Miami in two hours.”

In other news: The NBA said that its developmental league, also known as the “D” league, would be renamed the Gatorade League — or “G” league — next season.

The NBA will also hold its first awards show on June 26, handing out the traditional hardware for MVP, rookie of the year etc., but also introducing some new (but unspecified) nontraditional awards. The show will be held in New York and will be televised by TNT.

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