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On numerous occasions, Eastern Conference teams with losing records qualified for the playoffs, while Western Conference teams with winning records ended up missing them, including the , and the NBA Playoffs.
In all of its three years the BAA champion was finally determined in a best-of-seven series but its first two tournaments, the and BAA Playoffs , were otherwise quite different from the third, which 21st-century NBA playoffs nearly match.
In and , the Eastern and Western Division champions were matched in a best-of-seven series following the regular season, whose winner advanced to the championship round.
Meanwhile, four runners-up played best-of-three series to determine the other finalist: In the Philadelphia Warriors won the runners-up bracket and beat the Western champion Chicago Stags four games to one, which the NBA recognizes as its first championship; in Baltimore won the runners-up and beat Eastern champion Philadelphia in the final.
Both tournaments generated one finalist from the Eastern and one from the Western Division, but only by chance. In the third and last BAA tournament matched Eastern teams exclusively and Western teams exclusively, necessarily generating Eastern and Western playoff champions to meet in the final.
At the same time, the number of playoff teams was increased from three to four from each Division; two rounds of best-of-three series were played, followed by a best-of-seven championship.
The main idea was retained by the NBA. Even the tournament , following a transitional season with three divisions rather than two, initially determined one playoff champion from each division.
The Central champion Minneapolis Lakers became the first league champion under the NBA name by defeating Anderson from the West in a best-of-three, with Syracuse from the East idle, and then knocking off the Syracuse Nationals in six games.
The through playoffs changed the division finals into a best-of-five playoff. With only nine league members in —54, the NBA cut its postseason tournament field from eight teams to six from through , the period of eight to nine league members.
Round robins were played in , uniquely in NBA history—a three-team round robin among the three playoff teams in each division. From to , the first-place team in each division was idle while its two runners-up faced played a best-of-three.
Division finals were expanded to best-of-seven in and division semifinals to best-of-five in With ten league members again for the —67 season, eight teams were again admitted to the tournament, providing a simple three-round knockout 8-team bracket.
A year later, the division semifinals were changed to best-of-seven playoff. Then, in and , respectively, a fifth and sixth team were added to each Division, necessitating an additional first round of best-of-three series.
Finally in , the tournament expanded to its present team, four-round knockout, and the now-complete set of first-round series were expanded to a best-of-five.
In the first round was changed to also be best-of-seven. Thus all playoff teams from to present, same as the two Division champions in and , continue to play at the close of the regular season without idle team " bye " and may be certain of four playoff games including two at home.
The result was that each conference would have three divisions of five teams each, and the winner of each division was guaranteed a top-three playoff seed.
This would change slightly after the —06 season; while division winners still receive automatic playoff berths, they are guaranteed a top- four seed, as described below.
The previous playoff format, in place for the —05 and —06 NBA playoffs, after the NBA was re-aligned into six divisions, created controversy during the —06 season and playoffs, and would be changed prior to the —07 NBA season.
Prior to , NBA division champions were seeded higher than the other teams in their conference, regardless of their record.
Prior to , when the NBA was aligned into two conferences with two divisions each, the division champions were guaranteed the top two seeds.
This meant that top two teams in a conference by record would be seeded either first and second if they were in opposite divisions or first and third if they were in the same division.
Because of the NBA playoffs' preset matchups in the second round, this meant that the top two teams in a conference could never meet until the conference finals, assuming they both made it to that round.
After the NBA realigned its two conferences into three divisions each, the seeding rules remained largely unchanged. The top three seeds would now be reserved for division champions.
However, this meant that if the top two teams by record in a conference were in the same division, they would be seeded first and fourth.
Assuming no first-round upsets, this raised the prospect that the top two teams in the conference would face each other in the conference semifinals, instead of the conference finals.
The Mavericks had the second-best record in the Western Conference and the third-best record in the entire league, behind the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio.
However, they were seeded fourth because they finished second in the Southwest behind the Spurs. This turn of events led to the playoff format being criticized by many.
The Phoenix Suns , winners of the Pacific Division and possessors of the third best record, were seeded second, while the Denver Nuggets , winners of the Northwest Division and tied for only the seventh-best record in the conference, were seeded third.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers met in the second-to-last game of the regular season, after the top four seeds had been clinched.
The two teams were already determined to be the fifth and sixth seeds, and had only to determine which rank higher. The fifth seed would likely need to defeat the best two teams in the conference without home-court advantage to advance to the conference finals, as it would face fourth-seeded Dallas in the first round and likely face first-seeded San Antonio if it managed to defeat Dallas.
The sixth seed would play third-seeded Denver in the first round, but would have home-court advantage since the Grizzlies had the fourth-best record in the conference and the Clippers had the fifth-best , and would not have to face either San Antonio or Dallas until the conference finals at the earliest.
This led to speculation about whether the Grizzlies or the Clippers would have much commitment to winning their match-up in the second-to-last game of the season, since it was clearly most advantageous to lose the game in order to obtain the 6th seed.
The Clippers eventually lost to Memphis without much evidence to support the speculation that the Clippers had lost intentionally.
Ultimately, Dallas and San Antonio did meet in the second round, with Dallas winning in seven games and advancing all the way to the NBA finals.
There were no byes , or idle time, for the division champions — as there would be for higher-seeded playoff teams —66 and — All six participants played their first tournament games on Wednesday, April 2; in the two Eastern runners-up E2, E3 in the figure were idle for a few days only because there was a three-way Western tie to break.
Both winners of the runners-up bracket, Philadelphia in and Baltimore in , reached the final series having played fewer tournament games than their final opponents, Chicago in and Philadelphia in , had played in the best-of-7 pairings of division champions.