NBA Approves New Playoff Format Seeding By Record, Not Division Winners

by NESN Staff

September 8, 2015

Say goodbye to your division championship banners, NBA fans. They no longer mean much of anything.

The NBA announced Tuesday that its Board of Governors unanimously approved changes to the league’s playoff format, effective immediately for the 2015-16 season.

Teams now will be seeded one through eight in their respective conferences according to record. Under the previous system, each of the six division winners was guaranteed a top-four spot in the playoffs. If a fourth team had a better record than any of the other two division winners in each conference, they would be seeded appropriately, but no division winner could drop below the fourth seed.

Now, a scenario could exist in which a division “winner” could have the ninth-best record in a conference and miss the playoffs. It’s an incredibly unlikely scenario, but it’s still possible.

Tiebreak criteria for playoff seeding also has changed, with the best head-to-head record deciding the higher seed in the playoff bracket. Winning the division now is the second tiebreak criteria.

For an example, the new playoff format would have affected the 2015 NBA Western Conference Playoffs.

These were the final regular-season standings in the Western Conference last season:

WC standings

Under the old system, the Portland Trail Blazers were guaranteed a top-four seed because they won the Northwest Division. However, they were seeded fourth because the Los Angeles Clippers, who finished second in the Pacific Division, had a better record.

Under the new system being implemented this season, Portland would have been seeded sixth, with the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs each moving up one spot. That means the fantastic Clippers-Spurs first-round series wouldn’t have happened, with the Trail Blazers instead taking on the Clippers and the Spurs squaring off with the Grizzlies.

It seems like a good move for the NBA, despite weaker division winners potentially suffering under the new rules. Ultimately, it’s a fairer process — and that’s all the league is looking to find.

Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images

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