The real season is upon us. The playoffs are here and only one team will win 16 games to become NBA champion.
To manage that feat this year, one team will have to play its best at exactly the right time. And more often than not, the ones hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy with Adam Silver will have taken advantage of home court.
But what if there was a way to make the regular season more meaningful and actually give the team with the higher seed a more pronounced home-court advantage? Would a coach want the ability, like a football coach winning the coin toss, to defer to the second half? Considering the Toronto Raptors are 0-3 in home Game 1s, would they be better off starting the playoffs on the road?
To be clear: This isn’t a plan currently in the works at the NBA office. But it’s not as crazy as it sounds. In this scenario, teams wary of not being able to take advantage of home court to start the series one could choose to use an alternate format so that Game 1 on the lower seed’s court and the next two would be on the higher seed’s. Game 4 would be on the road for the higher seed with games five and six at home.
I can hear people saying, “Wait, give up Game 7 and play on the road?”
Yes, think about it—if you are the higher-seeded team and you haven’t beaten a lower seed in four of six games at home with a couple sprinkled in on the road, doesn’t that lower seed deserve to have game seven at home with a chance to win?
Of course, I can also hear marketing Grand Poobahs from the higher seed cringing at the prospect of giving up Game 7, but hey, that would only be an option available to teams—and if the team wins, there would be more games and another series format to plot. If you aren’t comfortable with it, keep it in its current series format of 2-2-1-1-1.
Here’s how it would work: The NBA could simply tell teams that have the chance of having home court that a week before the end of the regular season they have to make a decision. Submit combinations based on who your opponent is a week before the series’ proposed start date. There are some opponents you may to play first at home and others you won’t. Even if it’s the conference final or a second-round series, if you know you’re locked into a series that is tied at 2-2 and will go at least six games, you can declare how you’d want the next series’ schedule to play out.
So how do NBA people feel about this idea? Some coaches and players love it. They would enjoy a chance to transfer the pressure and tightness of Game 1 to the opponent.
People connected with the 2005 Phoenix Suns in particular said they wish they’d had the chance to use the alternate format for their conference-finals series. Steve Nash and company had come off a difficult six-game series win over the Dallas Mavericks with the final game being a 130–126 OT victory. Their next opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, also won in six games in the second round but had an extra day’s rest before the series started in Phoenix.
To make matters worse, the Suns arrived home at 4:00 am the day before the game and then played a 12:30 local time start. Needless to say they ran out of gas, giving up a 43-point final quarter and a home loss in Game 1.
The Spurs won in five games and history tells us they were likely the better team. But knowing game one was in jeopardy from the jump, Suns coaches may have leaned toward the alternate alignment to try to eke out a strategic advantage.
In short it would be something for the league to consider as some coaches would love the choice to shift the pressure.