There has been much talk of late of how the NBA needs to change the first round back from best of seven to best five, or even down to best of three. Personally, I was leaning more towards the switch back after all but two first round series started 2-0. Based on how teams like Miami, Atlanta and Los Angeles won their first two games pretty easily (I expected as much for Cleveland, GS, and San Antonio), I thought for sure there were going to be multiple sweeps or 4-1 wins. Thanks goodness I was wrong. We now have some great series shaping up with four tied at 2-2.
Rather than the standard suggestion of shortening the first round to best of five, or three, I am suggesting a rather unconventional approach to make things more interesting. I am imagining a series where it is not really a best of anything, but rather play on until we have a clear winner. This would help shorten series such as Cleveland/Detroit and San Antonio/Memphis in which there was a clear winner that emerged right away, especially when you consider the fact that no team has come back from a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs.
How can this be accomplished? First, get rid of the current 2-2-1-1-1 format. Instead, play a series where the teams continuously alternate between home and away (no back to back home games). In this type of series you can control the length based on how the teams are performing, so it would give you an out in a series such as San Antonio/Memphis or Cleveland/Detroit. Neither one of those teams were benefitting from playing that fourth game. San Antonio had proved its dominance in the first three, why force them to do it again, or force Memphis to have to suffer through another. Getting dominate teams out early cuts down on chances for top players becoming injured in meaningless Game 4 too.
With this type of series, I recommend setting a three game minimum requirement and a seven game maximum to work sort of like a combination of a best of five and best of seven. Once a team goes up two in the series you can call it. With a three game minimum, teams that go up 2-0 will have to finish out by winning the third game. The team with better record to still get their two playoff games at home that they are guaranteed with a best of five or seven. With the alternating sites in this type of series, it allows for the higher seeded team to close out a “sweep” at home instead of on the road.
Additionally, in a so-called home-home series in which the home team wins on their home floor as three of the series tied at 2-2 have been, would look better from the start. With games alternating sites every game you eliminate 2-0 series leads that turn into 2-2 series. What is the advantage with this? Game 3 ratings would be higher for the series if it were tied 1-1 (assuming home teams hold home court) than if it were 2-0. Some people overreact to 2-0 leads when it is the home team that went up 2-0 and just days later we find it back at 2-2 like this year’s playoffs.
With this type of series setup, I would say that a winner should be declared when a team takes a two game advantage (except for the case of 2-0, which the three game minimum kicks in). Why just a two game advantage? With the alternating sites each game, it gives teams a chance to prove themselves at home and the road quicker so once they pass that test, no further games should be necessary. At first glance you may think the NBA would be losing out on a bunch of games, but in reality it would still be relatively similar to the current format, maybe missing out on a game per series because you could have 3-0 and 3-1 series wins.
At the same time however, you may not be losing as much as a complete best of five change or even with the current best of seven. Some series may end up going longer than with the current format. Currently, if a team were to go up 2-0 in the current format because of two consecutive home games, it can have a mental impact on the opposing team that could end up producing a sub-par series. Nobody wants that. A current series that ends at 4-1 may end up being more competitive if you force a team to go immediately to the opposing teams home court in game two.
There are pros and cons to this method, but that comes with any type of series. A longer series of this type would definitely increase travel costs between games, but could potentially bring in bigger game to game revenues by making some more important. Consider the weight of a Game 4 in current format versus my proposed series when a team has a 2-1 advantage. It has significantly more meaning, which could lead to better viewership ratings. It all comes down to the tradeoffs. At this point, with so many complaints about the first round this year, why not try something new. It can’t be any worse than some of the first round series this year.
Let me know your thoughts by commenting below!