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NBA Playoff tree

An explanation of the NBA Playoff tree, with an analysis of the rules and breakdown of the post-season.

NBA playoff tree is set for yet another dramatic set of results

NBA playoff tree is set for yet another dramatic set of results

To reach and dominate the NBA playoff tree is the only ultimate goal for all the 30 participating teams in the NBA. These 30 teams including one Canadian team are divided into two conferences namely the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference, with 15 teams in each. Each conference is further divided into three divisions containing five teams each.

These 30 teams match up with other teams of the same conference and also of the other conference for a total of 81 matches in a season. These 81 matches per team can be broken down as follows:

A team faces opponents in its own division four times a season (16)

It faces 6 of the teams from the other two divisions  in its conference four times a season (24 games)

The remaining four teams in the conference are faced three times in a season (12 games)

The 15 teams of the other conference are faced twice in a season (15 games)

Only eight teams per conference advance into NBA Playoffs each season. These teams are selected and ranked in the order of their winning percentage i.e. the ratio of number of games won to the number of games played through the season. After the completion of the regular season, the top eight teams from both the conferences head into their respective conference Playoffs, which are also referred to as the post-season.

Effect of positions and the home court advantage

The final position in the playoffs is as important as reaching the NBA playoff tree. Not only does it decide the individual playoff match-ups, it also determines the home court advantage in the best of seven first elimination round, which is one of the key factors in winning the NBA championship. The top four teams in each conference hold the home court advantage against their first round match-ups, the 5th 6th 7th and 8th positioned teams.

The same procedure continues for the teams that face each other in the advancing rounds.

Format of the playoffs

The NBA playoff tree comprise of three rounds in each conference – the first round, the second round (or conference semifinals) and the third round (or the conference finals). The teams that win their respective conference finals then head against each other for the title round of the NBA championship.

Every round in the playoffs is a best-of-seven series, with one team obviously having the home court advantage over the other. The current format of the seven games goes like 2-2-1-1-1 , i.e. the first two games are played on the first team’s home court, the next two on the second team’s home court, and then the final three matches alternately one after the other court.

This home court format has gone through many changes and is again proposed to be changed to 2-2-2-1.

Match-ups in the playoffs

The match-ups between the teams qualifying for the NBA playoff tree are fixed and played in the following pattern.

NBA playoff tree

NBA playoff tree

To get their ideal match-ups for the playoffs, some teams even intentionally lose the last few games of the regular season and strategically lose their ranking and play against a comparatively easier opponent in the playoffs.

2014 Playoffs

The teams from the 2013-2014 season that qualified into the 2014 NBA playoff tree in order of their seeding are as follows:

EASTERN CONFERENCE                                                           WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. INDIANA PACERS                                                                  1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS

2. MIAMI HEAT                                                                           2. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

3. TORONTO RAPTORS                                                           3. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

4. CHICAGO BULLS                                                                  4. HOUSTON ROCKETS

5. WASHINGTON WIZARDS                                                      5. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

6. BROOKLYN NETS                                                                 6. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

7. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS                                                       7. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

8. ATLANTA HAWKS                                                                 8. DALLAS MAVERICKS


These are the teams currently facing off each other in one of the most hard-fought 1st round of the playoffs in the history of the NBA.

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