The NBA and NHL playoffs are almost upon us and between the two, we should have enough entertaining games to last us well into summer break. Between the two, it’s not exactly a secret that the NBA gets better ratings. NBA playoff games are spread out across more networks (ABC, ESPN, TNT) and they tie in nicely with the NCAA tournament ending less than a month before (college hockey has a handful of games broadcast throughout the season and the Frozen Four, all only available nationally if you have ESPNU).
There is one area though where I think the NHL does a better job than the NBA and that’s how they organize their playoff system. The basics for the two leagues are the same: the top eight teams from each conference, a best of seven series and the top four teams get home advantage in the first round. There is one difference though and while it’s relatively minor, it is still there.
In the NHL, the top three teams are the three division winners, regardless of record. Even if a division’s largely terrible, as was the case in 2008, when Washington snuck past Carolina on the last day of the regular season to win the Southeast Division and was the only team in that division to make the playoffs, the best team in the division still gets a top three seed.
In the NBA, the seeding’s determined solely by conference record. For example, right now Dallas is the No. 2 seed in the west because it has the conference’s second best record, even though it’s five and a half games behind San Antonio in the Southwest. Oklahoma City has already locked up the Northwest but it currently only has the No. 4 seed.
Bear in mind that some of Dallas’ wins came against absolutely terrible teams from other divisions like Sacramento, Cleveland, Minnesota, Washington and Toronto. Yet they still lost eight of their 15 division games to date against teams who served as a much better competitive test, such as San Antonio, Memphis, New Orleans and even Houston.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, won 13 of its 16 division games to date, including games against fellow playoff teams Denver and Portland, as well as Utah, which looked playoff bound until Jerry Sloan retired and Deron Williams was traded.
The Thunder are actually tied in wins and losses with the Los Angeles Lakers right now and the Lakers are really slumping so by the time the season wraps up tomorrow, the Thunder could be sitting pretty while the Lakers get the short end of the stick.
Nevertheless, what’s the point of having a division in an eight-team playoff system unless you get an extra perk like a top three seed? Because right now, the only thing winning your division actually means in the NBA is being able to hang an extra banner some teams don’t even bother to put up.