There are two general complaints made about the NBA playoffs by even its most avid fans. These two complaints are that the NBA playoffs are too predictable, and that they go on for an eternity. Neither complaint will likely ever be fully satisfied as the NBA will never decrease the number of playoff teams or switch to a format where teams play best of three or knockout rounds. But there is one thing the NBA can do that would help alleviate this problem, and that is switching the first round of the playoffs from best of seven back to best of five.
In the year 2003, the NBA decided to make the first round of the playoffs be best of seven instead of best of five. The reason was obviously for making more money, but as a result of this decision, the NBA playoffs have gone on longer and been more predictable.
Back in the days of the best of five first round, every series was interesting purely because of the fact that if a team got a split on the road, they had a serious chance at winning the series. But in the best of seven format, a split on the road doesn’t make things nearly as interesting. Especially in series’ that are forgone conclusions of what will happen.
In the era of best of seven in the first round, we have seen a couple of 8 seeds win a first round series (Warriors over Mavericks in 2007 and Grizzlies over Spurs in 2011), but in each of those cases the series’ would have been over in favor of the 8 seeds in five games anyways. Plus, we’ve had a ton of first round matchups that have been horrible and really don’t need to be best of seven in order to figure out who the better team is.
The NBA playoffs is all about making money, hence the switch to best of seven in the first round. But it also needs to be careful not to lose the interest of its viewers by stretching things out longer than they need to be and by making things more predictable than they have to be. The NBA by far has the most predictable playoffs of any of the four major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL). That is not a good thing. You want fans of all 16 playoff teams to feel like they at least have some reason to be optimistic. In the case of a shortened first round series of best of five, that would certainly help fans be more optimistic as well as keep the viewers/fans of the NBA playoffs more engaged in what is going on. This best of seven series format in the first round is an utter joke and the NBA knows it. But so long as they care more about a little extra revenue than a lot more excitement for the fans, the chances they go back to best of five in the first round look unlikely.
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