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How Have the NBA Playoffs Rules Changed in Recent Years?

How Have the NBA Playoffs Rules Changed in Recent Years?

The NBA prides itself on being a “fan-first” league, leading to several changes over the past decade. Some of the most radical amendments to the rules have been to the league’s playoff format. In case you forgot, let us remind you how the NBA Playoffs rules changed in recent years.


Missing the Best-of-Five

Since the 2003 NBA Playoffs, every series has been a best-of-seven in the first round, a switch from the best-of-five from years past. The best-of-five format led to several unforgettable upsets, including the Denver Nuggets over the Seattle Supersonics in 1994, the New York Knicks over the Miami Heat in 1998, and the Charlotte Hornets over the Miami Heat.


Unfortunately, the best-of-seven series eliminates the chances of a monumental upset. During the first year of the official change, the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic were ahead of the top-seed Detroit Pistons 3-1, prompting Tracy McGrady to say, “It feels good to get into the second round,” after Orlando’s Game Four win. The Magic dropped the next three games, and McGrady could never escape his faux pax.


Divisions Don’t Dictate Seeding

In the 20 years since the first-round change, the NBA Playoff structure has relatively been the same. Each conference had eight teams on their side of the bracket, with the division winners getting the seeding priority over everyone else. A lesser division champion could have a home series against a far superior team in this scenario.

Those rules no longer exist.

The conferences’ top six seeds are prioritized by their winning percentage, whether they are a division winner or not. NBA division champions always felt arbitrary, so this change is for the better. In a perfect world, commissioner Adam Silver thought this change would motivate teams to give it their all to land one of the top six seeds, avoiding the potential complications that may arise from the next drastic shift.


The Play-In Tournament

The league decided to have a play-in tournament between the #7-10 seeds of the conference to bring some excitement to the beginning stages of the NBA Playoffs. In theory, this gives more teams a fighting shot at postseason glory, but it feels like a consolation tournament between four average teams. Rarely does a lower seed make serious noise in the playoffs, so it’s essentially a ploy to earn additional revenue from broadcasting more games.


The tournament begins with the no. 9 taking on the no. 10, with the winner advancing to the next game while the loser goes home. Then, no. 7 squares off against no. 8, and that winner becomes the official no. 7 seed. Finally, the winner from the 9/10 game faces off against the loser of the 7/8 game to earn the right for the eighth and final playoff spot.


With the season dwindling and the playoffs upon us, we wanted to remind everyone how the NBA Playoffs rules have changed in recent years. Pregame is ready to supply you with the best NBA picks against the spread, highlighting which teams are capable of covering each game. Good teams win, but great teams cover, and our team of experts will cut out the guesswork and give you winners.

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