The NBA playoffs are less than 2 weeks away, and teams are currently positioning themselves for playoff seeding as they finish their respective seasons.
The importance of NBA team seeding cannot be overstated. Playoff matchups often can determine the likelihood that a team can make their conference final or even the NBA finals. The Dallas Mavericks understand the magnitude of matchups when in 2007 they finished out their regular season with a record of 67–15 and #1 western conference seed but were defeated in the first round in 6 games by the 8th-seeded Golden State Warriors.
Teams therefore are somewhat mindful of where they fall in the playoffs and who they end up playing. The Indiana Pacers are particularly interested in seeding this year, and are intentionally losing games late in the season with hopes to secure a #2, NOT a 1 seed, in the eastern conference playoffs. Here’s how/why.
Since beating Miami on March 26 to take a 3-game lead in the chase for the East’s top seed, the Pacers have lost 4 of 5 to fall a half game behind the Heat. It has also been reported that there is tension between players on the team and between certain players and head coach Frank Vogel. Vogel even stated publicly that he intends to sit certain starters to finish the regular season.
But why this slide? Why would the Pacers elect to lose games and their virtually solidified #1 seed after a monumental win against the favorite to win the East (and who they consider the key hindrance for a possible finals trip)? Why do they want a #2 seed and not a 1? Easy. The path of the #1 seed this season is a treacherous one, and the teams that lay in the way of the team that possesses it are matchup nightmares for the Miami Heat.
Last year, the Miami Heat strolled into the Eastern conference finals after playing a short-handed Milwaukee Bucks team in the first round and Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls team in the second. Meanwhile, the Pacers were forced to play a competitive Atlanta Hawks team followed by a hungry NY Knicks squad. These matchups worked out well for the Heat, but ended terribly for the Pacers.
This year, the Pacers are thinking different. The Miami Heat are currently pegged to potentially play the NY Knicks or the Atlanta Hawks in the first round; both teams are playing well as of late and have beaten the Heat earlier in the season. More importantly is the second-round matchup that could be against the Brooklyn Nets, who boast a 4-0 record against the Heat this regular season. The Indiana Pacers not only want to avoid playing the Bulls or Nets themselves, but feel that the Heat are vulnerable to these two teams and could possibly lose as early as the second round of the playoffs.
The Pacers therefore are intentionally losing games so that the Miami Heat retain the top seed and so that they receive the easier path to the conference finals. This unique form of tanking puts teams like Indiana in ideal position to win the East and go to the NBA Finals. Fabricating team discord is icing on the cake, as teams will feel the Pacers are vulnerable when they really are not #jedimindtricks. Playoff tanking is a strategy that is, in honesty, brilliant. Because if you are not positioning yourself for the best opportunity to win, you aren’t trying.