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Saturday, September 25, 2021

A plea to trim the fat off of the NBA Playoffs

KEITH ALLISON / CREATIVE COMMONS
KEITH ALLISON / CREATIVE COMMONS

Having just finished two back-to-back midterms, I walked home on a Thursday afternoon and entered my home to see my housemates and close friends watching Game 3 of the Warriors-Rockets series in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Just like Steph Curry, I told them I wanted no part of that mediocre series (too soon, I know). It’s Spring Quarter! Why the hell would I want to waste my time watching the San Antonio Spurs bench dismantle the Memphis Grizzlies’ B-Team? Did any of you even watch a single second of the Cleveland Cavaliers sweep of the Detroit Pistons? I’m pretty sure the most entertaining part of the first round was when Charlie Villanueva and Justin Anderson tried to interfere with Russell Westbrook and Cameron Payne’s ridiculous handshake. I guess angering one of the top-five players in the league is a good way to make your inevitable defeat quicker and therefore more painless, so nice at those Dallas Mavericks reserves for riling up Russ.

There are plenty of ways for you and your friends to find fun during a Spring Quarter afternoon; nobody’s forcing you to watch the last five games of Dwight Howard’s farewell tour as a Houston Rocket. More importantly though, maybe the NBA should trim the fat off of this draining two month grind that is the playoffs. Let’s face it, we all know in the end the only teams that have a realistic shot at the ‘ship are the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder and Cavs.

In 2003, the NBA changed its 5-7-7-7 playoff format to the 7-7-7-7 format that we currently know today. This change was intended to benefit the higher seeds to help offset the chance of an upset in the first round. Even before this change, however, the results were relatively predictable, barring major injuries. While the series’ between the 4 vs. 5 and 3 vs. 6 seeds can often produce the coveted entertainment that basketball fans around the country look for, the matchups between the 1 vs. 8  and 2 vs. 7 leave a lot to be desired. Most of the time, these series’ are a cakewalk for the higher seeds. I know the Raptors (2) vs. Pacers (7) may have been an exception to the rule, but make no mistake, Toronto was not the traditional number 2 seed. The young and inexperienced squad hadn’t won a playoff series since 2000-2001, so that matchup was more of a battle against destiny than anything else.  

The Western Conference powerhouse San Antonio (2) just demolished the Grizzlies (7) in four games, and the Spurs’ best player, Kawhi Leonard, only had to crack the 30-minute mark in one of them. The Warriors put the dysfunctional Houston Rockets out of their misery last Wednesday in five games, but this series would’ve been over in four had the NBA referees caught a blatant offensive foul by James Harden right before his Game 3 winning shot. The Cleveland (1) vs. Detroit (8) series failed to draw any interest as the favorites easily crushed the dreams of Reggie Jackson, who missed out on an attempt to extend the series by one whole game after his questionable decision to jump into contact on the final play of the series sweep instead of aiming for the bucket. Good job, Reggie, you just missed your chance to bust the NBA playoff bracket of every gambling fiend trying to compensate for his or her March losses.

While the closely seeded matchups in the first round may be a little more balanced and entertaining, it seems as if the results are ultimately futile. At the end of the day, the odds of anyone other than a top seed making it to the finals is unrealistic. The last time anyone lower than a 3 seed made the NBA finals was back in 2010 when the battle-tested Boston Celtics (4) were able to fight their way through an Eastern Conference that seemingly belonged to LeBron James and Dwight Howard, but these instances are still few and far between. Barring injuries, the usual suspects will always be the ones to hold up the Larry O’Brien trophy in June, and I’m sure Steph will still have a lot to say about this year being an outlier. Even if the MVP can’t make it back on time, it doesn’t open up a window for the aforementioned underdogs. In this grim, Steph-less dystopia, San Antonio (2), Cleveland (1), or OKC (3) has this thing locked down; I will eat my words (or a printed copy of The Aggie) if they don’t. The NBA playoffs are definitely drawn out unnecessarily, so a shortening of the format would spare us all some valuable time we could use on 3rd & U beers, hitting the Rec Pool or occupying Mrak Hall. I’m sure even James Harden and Dwight Howard would’ve appreciated the extra offseason time to play some more of their infamous delusional blame games as well.

 

Written by: Michael Wexler – sports@theaggie.org

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