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How New NBA Playoff Seeding Format Could Have Changed 2015 Results

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Playoff Seeding Format Revised

On Tuesday the Association’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve changes to the NBA playoff seeding format and qualification procedures effective immediately with the 2015-2016 season. For the first time the eight playoff teams in each conference will be seeded in order of their regular season record.

Long a topic of discussion the Board acted swiftly in voting this new format into action. Specifically the board approved changes to tie-break criteria for playoff seeding and home-court advantage. Now head to head results are the first criteria to break ties for playoff seeding and home court advantage between two teams with identical regular season records. The second criteria will be based on whether a team won its division.

This past season we saw every single team in the Southwest Division make the playoffs. For those counting that’s 5 out of 8 seeds. What made this accomplishment all the more impressive is the old format allows for the top team in each Division to earn a top 4 seed. Granted in the case of Portland they didn’t earn home court advantage given they had fewer wins than their opponent the Memphis Grizzlies.

The new format will result in:

  • The top eight teams from each Conference making the post season and will be seeded based on their regular season record one through eight
  • Division winners no longer are guaranteed a top 4 seed
  • Tie breakers will be decided by head to head results (first) and divisional standings (second)

How New Format Would Have Affected 2014-15

Looking at last season the West ended up with the top 8 playoff seeds being:

  1. Golden State Warriors with 67 wins
  2. Houston Rockets with 56 wins
  3. Los Angeles Clippers with 56 wins 
  4. Portland Trail Blazers with 51 wins 
  5. Memphis Grizzlies with 55 wins 
  6. San Antonio Spurs with 55 wins 
  7. Dallas Mavericks with 50 wins
  8. New Orleans Pelicans with 45 wins


In retrospect, if this format had been in existence this past season 4 teams would have been affected initially and ultimately the second round opponents may have also been different for both the Warriors and Rockets.

Had the Spurs played Memphis it’s highly likely the Warriors wouldd H have met the Spurs instead of the Grizzlies in the second round. It’s easy to speculate how much more difficult the road for Golden State would have been had this been the case.

With all apologies to Memphis they simply didn’t have the fire power to deal with the Warriors. The same cannot be said of the Spurs who offered an equal prowess offensively and defensively.

As for the Rockets their opponent would undoubtedly still been the Clippers, however LA would likely have been much more rested if they had faced Portland in the first round instead of being pushed to 7-games against the Spurs.

Remarkably this new format would have found 3 of the Southwest Division’s teams ranked in the top 5! Though this new qualification procedure affects both conferences it is really the West’s squads who are likely the happiest with the change. Granted a few Eastern Division teams might also be thrilled as many call the Atlantic Division the Titanic division though they did have 3 teams in the playoffs last season none of which were the 8-seed (Indiana).

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  • Why Elimination Of Conference Seeding Will Never Happen

    The next question sure to be brought forth will be erasing Eastern vs Western Conference seeding to be replaced by top 16 teams (yes we see you Mark Cuban) . This isn’t quite as simple to fix or likely to receive unanimous support. Why?

    Many Eastern teams would be knocked out of the playoffs all together and travel costs could potentially surge with unfair advantages arising based on luck. For example if the NBA chose to just rank the top 16 teams this is how the first round would have matched up:

    #1 Golden State (67)                           vs.                    #16 Phoenix Suns (39)

    #2 Houston Rockets (56)                 vs.                    #15 Boston Celtics (40)

    #3 LA Clippers (56)                             vs.                    #14 Milwaukee Bucks (41)

    #4 Memphis Grizzlies (55)               vs.                    #13 Oklahoma City Thunder (45)

    #5 San Antonio Spurs (55)               vs.                    #12 New Orleans Pelicans (45)

    #6 Cleveland Cavaliers (55)            vs.                     #11 Washington Wizards (46)

    #7  Portland Trail Blazers (51)       vs.                     #10  Toronto Raptors (49)

    #8 Chicago Bulls (50)                         vs.                     #9 Dallas Mavericks (50)

    Right away you can see the top 5 seeds would belong to Western teams and only 2 Eastern teams would get home court advantage. Overall 2 Eastern teams wouldn’t have even made the playoffs (Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers) which would have those franchises or ones in similar situations moving ahead screaming over lost playoff revenues. Yet, teams like Oklahoma City and Phoenix would have made the cut and notably the Thunder would have been the 13th seed.

    Yet the really big problem actually would be the luck of some Western teams who ranked high having to travel great distances like our own Rockets who would have to go back and forth to Bean town while teams finishing below them like Cleveland would play a relatively close proximity opponent like Washington.  In fact if the league did away with Conference top 8 ranking and just used top 16 period last season 2 of the top 3 seeds would have actually been hit the hardest (Houston, LA Clippers).

    While the owners and franchises will look at the bottom line (revenue) the travel issue would be a real consideration especially when the top teams realized their players were fatigued from travel over teams beneath them who could have potentially played an hour away from their opponent.

    For now the new format is ideal since it will allow teams who kill themselves just to get into the post season to reap the rewards of their regular season efforts. And for Clutch City fans I doubt anyone is lamenting the timing given an earlier change might have erased that historic comeback that we will inevitably replay over and over again with huge smiles on our faces.

    Remember to stay connected with Space City Scoop and make us a daily stop on your reading list for all things Houston Rockets.

    Next: Southwest Division Preseason Schedule

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