6 Seed is “Sweet Spot” in NBA Playoffs

When the NBA implemented its "play-in" to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago, it doubled the benefit to be derived from "earning" the sixth seed within a conference's playoff bracket — since, in addition to already having guaranteed that the 6 seed does not have to play the 1 seed in the second round if they win their first-round series, it also keeps the 6 seed out of the dicey play-in, which involves the 7 through 10 seeds (the top three seeds are the only other seeds that provide both of these privileges).

Not only that, but the top six seeds in each conference receive regular-season shares from the players' pool. The 7 and 8 seeds do not.

(True, the losers of the play-in do join their fellow losers in the lottery — but do not receive any money for having participated in the play-in.)

All of this could have huge implications for the Sixers and their defending NBA MVP center, Joel Embiid, if the projections on his return from his meniscus injury, sustained on February 6, are reasonably accurate.

The Sixers, who are 6-15 since Embiid's injury, could be in prime position to land the coveted 6 seed — and that could lead to the team's first Final Four appearance since 2001.

he NBA, of course, can nip this in the bud, by re-seeding its playoff teams just once — after the first round, in each conference.

When the NHL had three divisions in each conference — most recently in 2012-13 — it re-seeded, also after the first round only (hockey now has two eight-team divisions in each conference, and employs a hybrid playoff format, featuring the second- and third-place teams from the same division always playing each other in the first round).

Depending on exactly when Embiid is ready to return, Sixers owner Josh Harris might be tempted to "game the system" to see to it that the team does indeed obtain the 6 seed. If he goes there and succeeds, the series odds involving the Sixers will not even closely resemble what the standings say they "should be," in that Philadelphia will be favored to win in the first round, unless Milwaukee (who had the best overall record in the entire NBA last season) is the 3 seed (the seed the Bucs would actually get if the current season ended today).

Who knows? Maybe there will be a tanking scandal — and if that's what it takes, perhaps the NBA will start re-seeding its playoff teams — something it has actually never done before.

Baseball has this same inequity — but not the NFL.

So three changes are in order:

1. Re-seeding the playoff teams after the first round;

2. Excluding the play-in losers from the lottery; but

3. Awarding a share of the postseason money to the play-in losers — about one-quarter of what the losers of the first-round playoff series losers receive.

Integrity should never be sacrificed — especially when there is no reason in the world to sacrifice it.

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