Reformatting the NBA Playoffs could solve the league’s injury issue

Reformatting the NBA Playoffs could solve the league’s injury issue


Boston’s Jayson Tatum lies on the court after a possible injury in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals.
Image: Getty Images

The NBA Playoffs are gradually winding down, and to be honest, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag where quality is concerned. Despite the rating increase early in the postseason, some of these games have been hard to watch. Injuries to stars and the lack of downtime between games have some thinking it might be time to reformat the NBA playoffs.

Admittedly I’ve been a critic at times of how long the NBA’s postseason can feel. Many of you have felt the same way at one time or another, especially during that four-year run where Golden State and Cleveland were the favorites to make the Finals each year and fulfilled that prophecy. Now we have parity, and we still aren’t happy.

How can the NBA make its most consequential games more watchable?

There have been discussions about reformatting the NBA schedule for years now, but that usually pertains to shortening the regular season. I’d have no issue with the league taking away 10 to 16 games from the 82-game season. Since this talk about a midseason tournament continues to heat up, the association is probably headed in that direction anyway.

But I’d also like to propose a reduction in postseason games and extra rest for players. The injuries we’ve seen this year have affected the quality of the product. I don’t think there’s any question about that. The Eastern Conference Finals are a great example of this. The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are dealing with injuries to key players and guys dipping in and out of the lineup.

Tyler Herro missed a couple games in this series, and Kyle Lowry has suited up in just eight of the team’s 16 playoff games thus far, dealing with a hamstring injury. Jimmy Butler is dealing with knee inflammation and is playing more like James Butler than Jimmy buckets over the last two and a half games against Boston.

For the Celtics, Marcus Smart (ankle) and Robert Williams III (knee) have combined to miss three games against the Heat. Jayson Tatum is dealing with a shoulder injury that clearly affects his play, even though he did post a near triple-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists. But he wasn’t efficient shooting the ball, and it’s obvious the shoulder was a factor.

Too many stars and key players have suffered injuries in these playoffs. Smart, Williams, Butler, Luka Dončić, Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, and Joel Embiid either missed games early in the playoffs or suffered an injury that affected them moving forward. The lack of time off between games is one of the culprits tied to injuries, diminishing the product we see.

The first round should be shorter

Removing games from the postseason should definitely be on the table for the NBA. The first round doesn’t need to be seven games. Going back to five games in the first round wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. We’d get shorter series’ but more urgency at the same time. It sometimes feels like players/teams pace themselves in a seven-game series, knowing they have time to make up for a couple of losses. If a team goes down 2-1 in a best of 5, now game 4 is literally a must-win. Nobody wants to go down 3-1, but we know that comeback isn’t impossible anymore when you have seven games.

More time between games in later rounds is another aspect that could help in terms of quality play. Performing at the highest level every other night is not easy, and we’re seeing it right before our eyes during this playoff run. We’ve seen some of the best teams in the league suffer blowout losses.

During Game 3 of the Warriors’ semifinals series, Golden State took one on the chin against the Grizzlies, losing by 30 points. But Steph and company may go on to win the Finals after that debacle. The Phoenix Suns got mauled by the Dallas Mavericks in the same round, losing Game 7 at home by 33 points. The Suns also lost Game 6 in Dallas by 27. Two of the five games in the Heat-Celtics series have been won by 20 or more points.

Even if the league added an extra rest day or two during the conference finals and NBA Finals, that would help. Yes, these players are the best at what they do, but even they need rest. Obviously, one day between games isn’t enough, especially after a long, intense season. We continue to discuss players and load management, but this should tell us something.

Everyone wants to watch the best product possible at the most critical time of the season. Going back to a shorter first round and adding rest days in later rounds would add to the effectiveness of players on the court. The 1980s and 90s were the best of five first-round series, so it can be done. And adding extra rest days later in the playoffs still gives the NBA the chance to collect more advertising dollars. Because we all know this is what it comes down to.

While I have watched every conference Finals game, it hasn’t been an easy task. As great as these players are, many of them look exhausted and beat up, and it’s clearly affecting the outcome of games. Fresher players should make for more competitive, exciting games across the board. I’m not saying the NBA should add so many extra days off to where one series lasts three weeks. But something as simple as an extra day between switching venues from games two to three would be an excellent start. So, instead of just the travel day, teams would get a second day off before resuming play.

Luckily, between the end of the conference and start of the NBA Finals, there will be a few extra days of recovery time. Whichever team comes out of the east will need that rest before heading into the Finals. Hopefully, the league is looking into a way to get players more rest without dragging the season out too much longer.

The league could try this out next season, similar to how they implemented the play-in a couple of years ago. Now the play-in is a mainstay, and most of us have accepted that it isn’t going anywhere. Players would likely be more than grateful for more recovery time between playoff games when they need to be at their best.



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.