NORMAN — The NBA and many of its owners have long been in search of greater parity to thwart one of the enduring criticisms of the league’s playoffs — that the outcome is too predictable.
That the kind of suspense that makes March Madness so compelling, and the kind of hope that gives fan bases across the NFL the belief that their team has a chance to win it all, doesn’t exist in the NBA.
During the league’s lockout of the players in 2011, then-Commissioner David Stern and several high profile owners expressed a need for changes to the collective bargaining agreement to level the playing field between markets big and small.
During a wild and crazy opening round, it appears that the league is closer to achieving that goal. Top-seeded Indiana is getting a huge challenge from Atlanta, a team that entered the playoffs with a losing record. Oklahoma City is knotted 2-2 with Memphis; Houston was beaten twice at home to open the series against Portland; and even the San Antonio Spurs have their hands full with eighth-seeded Dallas out West.
“You see some of these teams that have the higher seed that have home-court advantage losing games,” NBA TV analyst Grant Hill said. “I’m not sure that we’ve ever seen that many losing at one time.”
The favorites went 7-9 in the first 16 games of the playoffs, the worst record since the league went to the seven-game series format in 2003. The games have been exciting, tightly played and anything but predictable, with both conferences appearing to be as wide open as they have been in years.
But that could come at a price. Some of the league’s most established stars and biggest brands are in trouble early in their series. For a star-driven league, the prospects of not having players such as Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard — the stars that the casual fan tunes in to see this time of year — or of not getting a heavyweight Indiana-Miami Eastern Conference finals that everyone has been salivating over for the entire season could be cause for concern.