For the first three rounds of the NBA playoffs, Game 5 returns to the home court of the higher seed. Game 6 is at the lower seed’s building, then the teams travel again for a Game 7, back to the higher seeds home court. The 2-2-1-1-1 format.
But not for the NBA finals. Then the rules change.
Now it is a 2-3-2 format, with the lower seeded team getting the three games in the middle. It’s perceived as a disadvantage for the lower seed — only twice since the NBA went to this format has the lower seed swept those three middle games.
So why do it? Money. Money and convenience.
This year’s finals (and last year’s) mean a cross-country flight for everyone. Not just the players, but for the massive number of media, television crews, NBA personnel and more that are at the games. Putting on and NBA finals is a production, and moving that production all the way across the country is expensive and a big pain.
And in a seven-game series, that’s a lot of cross-country flights in a few days right at the end. A lot of days lost to travel.
Remember this format was instituted in 1985 — when the two teams playing in this year’s finals were playing seemingly every year. And would be for a while. The travel was less of an issue getting from Chicago to Utah in the 1990s, but the format had been set. And as the league’s popularity grew, so did the contingent that follows the finals. That meant nothing changed.
And nothing is going to in the near future, unless some kind of Star Trek transporter can be developed. Not that I would be surprised if David Stern already had one of those, he’s just not making it public.
VIZZINI: “So, it is down to you. And it is down to me.”
MAN IN BLACK nods and comes nearer…
MAN IN BLACK: “Perhaps an arrangement can be reached.”
VIZZINI: “There will be no arrangement…”
MAN IN BLACK: “But if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.”
That farcical scene from The Princess Bride pretty much sums up where we are with the Tristan Thompson holdout with the Cleveland Cavaliers, minus the Iocane powder. (Although that scene was a battle of wits in the movie and this process seems to lack much wit.) The Cavaliers have put a five-year, $80 million offer on the table. Thompson wants a max deal (or at least a more than has been offered), but he also doesn’t want to play for the qualifying offer and didn’t sign it. LeBron James just wants the two sides just to get it done.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN thinks LeBron could be very disappointed.
Windhorst was on the Zach Lowe podcast at Grantland (which you should be listening to anyway) and had this to say about the Thompson holdout:
“I actually believe it will probably go months. This will go well into the regular season.”
Windhorst compared it to a similar situation back in 2007 with Anderson Varejao, which eventually only broke because the then Charlotte Bobcats signed Varejao to an offer sheet. Thompson is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavaliers can match any offer, but only Portland and Philadelphia have the cap space right now to offer him a max contract. Neither team has shown any interest in doing so.
And so we wait. And we may be waiting a while.
ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin explains why he believes the Sacramento Kings have enough pieces to potentially make a run at the final playoff spot in the West.