In the conference finals in the NBA this season, both of the higher seeds with home-court advantage — Boston in the East and Houston in the West — are the betting underdogs to Cleveland and Golden State, respectively. Up for debate: Does this expose a fundamental flaw in the way NBA teams are rewarded for their success over an 82-game season?
First take: Michael Rand
One extra home game in a playoff series is not enough of a reward for regular-season excellence.
Throughout the conference playoffs, the higher-seeded team should get five home games in a best-of-seven series. As it is now, the edge gained in the regular season can be undone with one bad playoff performance at home. Teams like Cleveland and Golden State know this and exploit it by slacking during the regular season.
Hine: You can’t see the forest for the trees here, Mr. Rand. Cleveland and Golden State are the exceptions, the road teams who have a good chance of winning their series. The past few years, the NBA playoffs have been painfully predictable in the early rounds because home-court advantage favors the higher seeds so much already.
In NBA history, home teams win playoff games 65.8 percent of the time. If you give another home game to the higher seed, these early-round playoff matchups lose any semblance of drama, the playoffs become more one-sided and the prospect of upsets becomes even smaller. That’s no fun.
Rand: What isn’t fun is watching teams rest players, invent injuries and otherwise treat the regular season with contempt. The Spurs have made an art form of it, and the Warriors have followed suit.
They’re exploiting a flawed system that doesn’t give enough of an incentive for regular-season success. No, what isn’t fun is watching teams that have given an honest effort and achieved honest results get their edge eradicated by one home loss. It also isn’t fair.
Hine: Then you must hate the NCAA tournament if it’s only fun to see the best teams make the finals. I don’t blame teams for resting players. This season there were a significant number of major injuries in the NBA and cost several marquee names (such as Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving) significant playing time, in some cases seasons. If a team has data or analysis that a player could benefit more from resting, I’m all for that. I’d rather have the best players playing in the playoffs than not.
Changing the playoff home-game format may incentivize teams to risk playing tired players in the regular season, making them vulnerable to more injuries.
Rand: Ugh, I hope this doesn’t amount to a generational preference between Gen X (me) and millennial (you).
My plea: Play hard all the time. Change the playoff format to this: two home (higher seed), two home (lower seed) and three home (higher seed). Hey, that’s just two venue changes compared to a possible four under the current 2-2-1-1-1 format. More rest for the weary.
Final word: Chris Hine
At least they get days off, sometimes two, in between. I just don’t see the need to mess with it. It’s already hard enough for lower seeds to win in the NBA playoffs. Your format change would make it close to impossible, removing the potential for drama and incentivizing teams to push their players possibly to the breaking point in the regular season. I don’t think teams or players will sign up for that.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More Hine: startribune.com/NorthScore