The NBA is making its much-anticipated return in July and fans cannot wait for tip-off. The NBA playoff format is interesting and we will be discussing who it favors and who it doesn’t. The eighth and ninth seed will play a two-game play-in series if there is a 4.5 or less game difference between them. This format makes the Western Conference very competitive for the eighth spot and levelled the format for anyone on the outside looking in.
The NBA (Kind of) and Fans:
Now, this may be an unexpected winner and somewhat loser, but the reality is that this format does not seem to favor the Memphis Grizzlies. We will get into those details later, but the NBA needs to fight with the most popular sport in America, football, and America’s past time, baseball. With the current playoff format, the playoffs will begin on August 17th and the latest possible date is October 13th.
Given the unprecedented times in our world and sports, we will see the three biggest professional sports being played at the same time. The NBA will need their biggest stars and markets to compete with the NFL and MLB. How this format helps with that is that the New Orleans Pelicans, with rookie phenom Zion Williamson and first time All-Star Brandon Ingram, and the Portland Trailblazers, with NBA star Damian Lillard and future Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony, have the best chance to compete for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Currently, the young Memphis Grizzlies team, led by the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, Ja Morant, are in the coveted eighth seed. Memphis may be an exciting team in the future but at the moment it doesn’t carry the name, star power, or storyline that the Pelicans or Blazers team can warrant in a first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
As mentioned above, the Portland Trailblazers have a great opportunity to take over the eighth seed from the Memphis Grizzlies. Although it was a very emotional game, Lillard and the Blazers defeated the Lakers on January 31st. It was the first game played by the Lakers after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. Lillard scored an impressive 48 points, on 7-12 shooting from the 3-pt line. The Blazers will be healthier than ever this season, with the return of center Jusuf Nurkic and power forward Zach Collins. Lillard has been nothing short of remarkable in the playoffs, including two impressive game-winners on his resume. The health of the team and the clutch play of Lilliard should be enough to push Portland to the eighth seed out west.
New Orleans Pelicans:
The Pelicans had one of the biggest off-seasons this past summer, trading away franchise cornerstone Anthony Davis, and acquiring young, untapped potential in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. They also lucked into the number one overall pick in the draft and selected one of the highest coveted rookies since LeBron James in Zion Williamson. Ingram emerged as an All-Star, and Lonzo was picking up his game before play was suspended. In Zion’s 19 games played he did not disappoint, and arguably exceeded expectations after returning from injury. The Pelicans facing the Lakers in the playoffs may not phase the Lakers much, but for the NBA and the legacy of Zion, it can be astronomical. An amazing performance, or even stealing a game from the number one seed in the west will show the Pelicans as an attractive landing spot for future free agents. The future looks bright for the young team, and the opportunity to gain experience and showcase their talent is possible this postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers:
The theme of the Clippers season was “load management” and concern over the health of star players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers have been one of the most active teams in regards to changing and tweaking their roster. A trade deadline swap of Maurice Harkless for Marcus Morris Sr., and the free-agent acquisition of Reggie Jackson and Joakim Noah, will have the hopeful title contenders needing time to gel and build chemistry. We have rarely seen the Clippers at full strength and the expected first-round matchup with Luka Doncic and the Mavericks is no walk in the park. The Clippers will have time to build some chemistry before the playoffs begin, but most importantly have the time to be as healthy as can be. Los Angeles looks to use the eight-game season and the first round of the playoffs to build chemistry and get their rotation set.
As mentioned a few times already, the Memphis Grizzlies may have a short stay in Orlando and fall out of the playoffs. This season the young Grizzlies have exceeded expectations and have set themselves up for a very bright future in the Western Conference. Ja Morant had an argument to make the All-Star game this season as a rookie, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Blake Griffin in 2011. Playoff experience would do wonders for a young team as Memphis has, but it will take a huge performance for them to hold off the other 5 teams from jumping them in the standings. The play-in format does not help the case for the Grizzlies either. If the eight seed has less than a 4.5 game lead over the ninth seed they will play a play-in tournament, where the eight seed has to win 1 game while the ninth seed has to win two. Currently, Memphis is 3.5 games ahead of Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento.
The Brooklyn Nets arguably had the best off-season of any team in the Eastern Conference signing trio; Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and DeAndre Jordan. Durant was not expected to return this season and Irving has been battling injuries all season, having only played 20 games. He has also made headlines by vocalizing his discomfort with the league resuming play given what is going on in the world. Durant and Irving have both stated that they will not be playing in Orlando. The Nets could have shocked the East with both stars returning, and now may have to face the Milwaukee Bucks if Orlando can jump them in the standings.
Going back to this topic, the NBA has the most competition for fan viewership they have ever had. Playoffs or finals without their biggest stars and markets can be detrimental to the league. The MLB is expected to be in full swing, the NFL will be well into their season, and the UFC has grown its fan base by currently being the only sport on TV. The NBA has struggled with viewership, down 12% from last season. It may take LeBron, or another star doing remarkable things to attract fans to watch the NBA finals. A big market team such as Boston or Miami may make the finals more exciting, but the favorites to represent the east, Milwaukee, realistically don’t have the attractiveness to draw big ratings. The NBA will have to get creative with scheduling and hope they can dodge big nights from the other sports leagues.