Storyline: Playoff Seeding

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“No, there’s not that kind of caution,” he said of having his players healthy for the playoffs, which open April 14. “There’s only health caution. We’re not going to bring them back until they’re ready to come back. We can’t look at it as other teams are looking at it, ‘That we’re going to make sure we’re ready for the postseason.’ That is not how it’s going to be for us — it’s go time. And both of those guys know that. They’ve been very committed and diligent behind the scenes to working. But we have to do it smart, intelligently.”

Just days removed from being out of the playoff picture, the Spurs (40-30) are seventh in the West with 12 games remaining after winning their last three in a row. Back on track with three games left in a timely six-game homestand, the Spurs understand now is not the time to overlook a seemingly overmatched opponent. “We can’t let down,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who powered the Spurs past the Timberwolves with a relentless 39-point, 10-rebound double-double. “We have to be focused. We have to take care of business. We have to keep the same attitude, the same hunger going into this game. They are still a good quality team. We have to keep playing like we are in that tenth spot.”

One surefire solution: Get the ball to Aldridge. The six-time All-Star scored 24 and 25 points in wins over Orlando and New Orleans before coming within two points of matching his season high Saturday. “He’s been our backbone,” Gay said. Aldridge said he loves performing in the playoff-like atmospheres the Spurs find themselves in on a nightly basis these days. “If you are any type of competitor, than you are built for these games,” he said. “It’s live or die for us right now.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t watch scores from across the Western Conference as they come in nightly. Nor does he want his players to ignore what’s happening around them in an uber-competitive chase for the final five playoff spots in the West. “It’s important not to get lost, but also understand what’s in front of you,” Thibodeau said. “This is your business, so you want to be aware. Everyone is watching games. You want to know what’s going on in the league. It’s part of studying and knowing your opponent well.”

They rallied from 10 points behind with fewer than 10 minutes to go to beat the Wizards on a night when rivals Oklahoma City, New Orleans, San Antonio, Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers all won as well. The only team in pursuit of playoff spots three through eight that lost: Denver. “We watch every night,” Wolves veteran forward Taj Gibson said. “You try to go hard to win your game and then watch the scores around. You’re either like, ‘Yes!’ or ‘Oh, man, c’mon.’ But you can’t depend on any other team to help you win. You go out there and do the best you can with the schedule you’ve got.”

That’s easier said than done when the latest result is just an internet click away. Thibodeau constantly reminds that all 82 games are worth the same, but at this time of year a victory such as Sunday’s over the Warriors feels like it weighs a bit more. “It’s nerve-racking,” Gibson said. “But when it goes your way, it’s like Christmas every day. It’s really good because you circle some of those games [such as the Golden State game] because you know they’re going to be really, really tough games, like playoff-style games where it’s going to come down to the last two shots and it’s about which teams can execute better. Those are playoff-style games and that’s what it’s all about.”
3 months ago via ESPN

The implementation of a play-in tournament is not imminent. It falls behind the one-and-done rule and perhaps reseeding the playoffs 1-16 regardless of conference in the current reform pecking order. (It could go hand-in-hand with that change, only with one play-in tournament instead of separate brackets for each conference.) It is not coming next season, and it would be a shock if the NBA adopted it in time for 2020 or even 2021. It may never happen. Any such change would need approval from the competition committee, and then from a supermajority of 23 NBA teams. That process has not even started.
3 months ago via ESPN

A play-in would require collective bargaining with the players’ union. There is also debate within the league about whether a play-in would inspire as much fan interest and hype as supporters hope. After all, we are talking mostly about .500-ish teams battling for the right to get destroyed by top seeds. In theory, revenue from a play-in tournament — or a midseason tournament — could ease the league toward slashing a few games from the 82-game schedule, but it is unclear any such tournament would rake in sufficient cash. But the fact the discussion around the league has crystallized around one or two proposals indicates that a play-in tournament is no longer some pie-in-the-sky idea. It fits within the NBA’s broader goals of reducing the incentive for teams to tank, and maintaining peak fan interest across the full NBA calendar.

The conversation about playoff reseeding has been going on for quite some time. But it gained a bit more momentum during NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver discussed the topic at length, even raising the possibility about a future tweak. Count LeBron James as one player who wouldn’t be on board. “I would disagree with that,” James said Wednesday afternoon following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first practice since the break. “I think our league has been built the right way as far as when it comes to the postseason.”

“There’s been dominant conferences throughout time,” LeBron James said. “In the ’80s you had the Lakers who dominated the league at one point, then you had Boston that dominated the league. In the ’90s you had Chicago that dominated the league. San Antonio also had its run. We had our run in the East with Miami, Golden State is having their run. “It just changes the landscape of the history of the game. If you start messing with seedings and playoffs and then you start talking about, ‘Well, if this team would have played this Western Conference team, what….’ It’s cool to mess around with the All-Star Game, we proved you can do that, but let’s not get too crazy about the playoffs. You have Eastern Conference and you have Western Conference. You have Eastern Conference champions, you have guys from the Eastern Conference that win the big dance and sometimes you have it from the West as well.”

There are plenty of cracks in the NBA’s economic model, and they will likely get deeper in the years to come. As Mark Cuban pointed out when talking about why the conference system should be changed, there’s less incentive for teams in the East to get better because the bar for making the playoffs and winning a series or two is much lower. Stern always said the balance of power between the conferences was cyclical, but the last two generations of players have not been able to change the underlying dynamic, and there’s no guarantee the next one does either. As long as the owners in the East keep making money off their teams, they have no reason to change the way they are run.

There are some who believe the NBA should eliminate conference affiliation in the postseason and seed playoff teams based on record. Silver believes there are challenges to that concept. “I know that from a fan standpoint, there is real appeal to this notion of seed your teams 1 through 16 going into the playoffs and possibly two Western Conference teams could meet in the Finals or two Eastern Conference teams, and where we ended up was that — again, it relates directly to the resting issue and injury data, is that we would be dramatically increasing travel because if we’re going to seed 1 through 16 we would need to have more of a balanced schedule throughout the year,” Silver said. “That would result in more travel. You could have a Boston-Golden State first-round matchup in the playoffs. It’s something we continue to look at.
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