Bias in NBA return format?

NBA insider Woj tweeted that the NBA’s Board of Governors will likely vote to approve NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s proposed return-to-play format.

What has changed, who benefits, and why? Our NBA insider, Ragavan Sreetharan has the details.

1. Only 22 teams are expected to return. There were discussions about going directly into the playoffs with the 16 teams with the best record playing each other but teams on the fringes of the playoffs weren’t thrilled with the idea. Given the variance in strength of schedule, a compromise of 22 teams was reached.           


  • Golden State Warriors – they lock in the worst record in the league and have the best odds in the lottery (to receive the no.1 pick in next year’s draft)
  • Teams not returning – no need to play anymore; most were probably tanking or clearly did not have a team with a chance. No need to risk injuries, risk COVID for what would be 5-6 games with no one in the audience.


  • Cleveland Cavaliers / Minnesota Timberwolves – maybe Steph Curry’s return would have improved the Warriors record and these two teams could have fought it out for the worst record. But truthfully, no real losers here

2. A play-in tournament was discussed. The 8th seed teams, Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies have a 5½ and 3 ½ game lead respectively over the 9th seed in their conference making it almost impossible that an abbreviated 5-6 game finish of the regular season would allow teams outside playoff spots to catch up.


  • Memphis Grizzlies – Memphis didn’t win outright; an immediate move to the playoff would have been better but its no secret that their record is based on an easier schedule and they were about to come up against the top teams when COVID brought the league to a halt
  • Teams on the fringes of the playoffs – these teams are now potentially competing for more spots than was available; many of them were too far to catch the 6th or 7th seed that they may face in a tournament


  • Teams with a ‘lock’ on playoff spots – particularly teams placed 5th to 7th which are probably the teams that will be dragged into the play-in tournament but were many games ahead of the 9th seed that they may have felt comfortable with playoff spot. According to NBA Insider Ragavan Sreetharan, the league is concerned particularly with the risk of Dallas Mavericks missing the playoffs. Luka Doncic has been spectacular and was in the early running for MVP and this new format could put his playoff debut at risk.

3. 1 -16 seed playoff. Probably the most highly debated topic – the NBA which usually seeds within conference has for a long time considered seeding independent of conference given the recent disparity in strength of teams in the West and East. The biggest concern with this was the excessive travel (or so claimed the owners of Eastern Conference teams). Given COVID, the plan to return would have all teams in Orlando, the travel excuse is void and so it seems like perfect ground to try the 1-16 seed playoff. Lots of excitement with respect to this plan, Kendrick Perkins mentioning “the 8th and 9th matchup – Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat. You’re talking about a bar fight; you’re talking about bring back old-school” with respect to the potential matchup of Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler, both who are highly regarded within NBA circles but relative unknowns outside NBA superfans.


  • Los Angeles Lakers: Expected to have to go through the Clippers and reigning finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the new format gives them an easier path to the NBA finals. Sreetharan mentioned that the NBA revenues were hurt last year by LeBron James’ absence and while sources wouldn’t explicitly mention that they want to push for a Lakers final, it was implicitly understood. King James is the biggest star in the NBA and a long playoff run with him would mean more eyeballs on the playoffs


  • Milwaukee Bucks: Expected to have an easier path to the finals, they could now have to play pre-season favorites, the Clippers. While the Clippers record may not show it, they are the team most feared in the NBA. The team has had to integrate two All-Stars and have chosen to rest Kawhi Leonard on back-to-backs – both affecting their current standings.

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