Could the NBA Adopt the D-League Playoff Format?
Then imagine the reaction if the Lakers lost because the Spurs played out of their minds, motivated by being chosen as the sacrificial lamb.
It could happen in the future if the NBA adopts the playoff format now being used -- and closely watched -- in the NBA D-League.
It would add a whole new dimension to playoff fever.
Unlike the NBA, where first-round pairings in each conference are determined by seedings, the D-League will start its playoffs next week with the top three teams Sunday selecting their first-round opponents from among the bottom four, playoff-eligible teams.
It's like going to a livestock auction.
"There's nothing more motivating than being called out by another team,'' said Dan Reed, NBA D-League president. "It gets the fans excited. I know it gets the players and coaches fired up. It has worked well in our league.''
This will be the second consecutive year the format is being used by the D-League, the research and development arm of the NBA. In a league where player rosters are so fluid -- this season has seen a record 32 NBA call-ups and 30 players with NBA contracts assigned -- the playoff format can be both a blessing, and a curse, to the top seeded teams.
It rewards a top seed by allowing it to avoid a team suddenly on the rise, but it also can light a fire under a team that gets singled out as easy prey.
"It's an interesting, intriguing concept,'' said Nick Nurse, head coach of the Iowa Energy, which will earn the No. 1 seed. "Judging by the interest it generates in our league, I imagine it would be dramatic for the NBA. It could be huge for them.''
Nurse was the coach last season of the Energy, which had the No. 3 seed. They opted to play Dakota Wizards, the No. 6 seed, then were upset in that first round.
"Hindsight is always 20-20 when you get beat, but it probably wasn't a great pick on our part,'' Nurse said. "That's one of those, if you could have back, you'd do it differently.''
A year ago, the first two rounds of the D-League playoffs were one-game eliminations. This year, they have gone to a best-of-three series in all rounds with the first game being played at the home of the lower seed. The series moves for Game 2, and possibly Game 3, at the home of the higher seed.
Iowa general manager Chris Makris said that before making his selection Sunday, he and Nurse will consider several factors:
Individual matchups; roster changes since the last time they played; late-season records; home records (who they think they can beat in Game 1); potential signees that could be sent down from the NBA parent club at the last minute; and travel, preferring to make a shorter, easier trip.
"We're always looking for ways to improve the game,'' Reed said. "Some things we try, get adopted (by the NBA). Some don't. I can say the NBA is watching this, and they're very interested.''
If the NBA adopted the D-League format, it probably wouldn't change too many outcomes. The better, higher-seeded teams still usually would win, but the actual picking of the opponents would generate considerable excitement, fuel rivalries.
Pick-em night could evolve into something like the draft lottery has. Instead of letting teams play into their matchups with seedings, it would allow both casual and rabid fans to debate the issue of better/worse matchups. Teams could even let their fans get involved in the process.
It would put more of an onus on the higher seed to make the right choice, leaving it open to considerable second guessing -- if it lost.
"If I were a team that had to pick, I'm not sure I'd like the concept,'' said Golden State general manager Larry Riley. "But anytime you can do something to create fan interest, it's good. It's certainly a unique concept.''
Riley, like most of his peers, was cool to the idea of the NBA adopting such a format. And it's hard to imagine the coaches liking the idea, either, giving their underdog opponent some added motivation.
"I guess you could do it, but I don't like the idea. I don't like it at all. `Yeah, they picked us because they thought we were the worst team,''' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whose team looks headed for the No. 2 seed in the East. "I don't like the sound of that. I wouldn't want to pick between 5, 6, 7 or 8. If I could pick 15, then I might like it.''
The playoff format stems from the D-League's open door, fan-friendly policy. The idea came to the league in an e-mail on Reed's blog. It was discussed by the league coaches, and then by the league owners, who have been pleasantly surprised by the interest it generated.
"It certainly gives your opponent some bulletin board material,'' Nurse said. "It's an automatic let's-show-them mentality. I think it would be interesting to see it at the NBA level.''