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Terry Pluto: In a Too-Long NBA Season, the Team Still Standing in June Wins

LeBron James
Brandon Davis

If the Cavs plan to return to the NBA Finals this year, they’ll have to keep winning for about another month and a half – into early June. That’s quite a lot of time on the court for a sport that began in October. 

WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says when he started covering the NBA as a beat writer in the 1980's, he didn't believe veteran broadcasters who said he didn't know what he was in store for in covering the NBA playoffs. Then he quickly learned, "It's a totally different game."

The NBA regular season is 82 games. Then, the playoffs come and you add about another 20 games to that. "Generally, what it shows is that the healthiest and the best team wins out in the end. There's not a lot of upsets and surprises in time."

A grueling best-of-seven
In the NBA playoffs, each round is the best-of-seven games. "You can have a horrendous game in the playoffs and still win a title."

That's different from many other sports. For example, in high school basketball, NCAA March Madness and the NFL, teams face off for just one playoff game.

"Baseball, yes it's best-of-seven. [But] you'll see teams play each other four times in a row during the regular season," Pluto says. "For example, the Indians are in the Central Division. They'll play other vision opponents 19 times in the regular season." 

Different foes
In the NBA, teams rarely play one another twice within a week and not more than four times in a season. "Playoffs come. Same team. There's always at least one day off between games if not two. So they are studying everybody."  

As a result, Pluto says, these NBA playoff games get physical and players think, "'I've been lining up against this guy for five games now. He's been trying to bury an elbow in my ribs for four of those games. I'm sick of him. And that's why you get pushing and shoving and things like that.'" Pluto says.

And sometimes, worse. Flash back to the first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs when Kevin Love needed shoulder surgery after Boston's Kelly Olynyk yanked his shoulder out of the socket. 

Pluto says sometimes when NBA teams get in an 0-2 or 0-3 playoff series hole, it's hard to get out.

"Sometimes you can break their will. You're thinking, 'This is the fourth time we've played them. We can't get over the mountain.' And we saw it when the Cavaliers were in the Finals against Golden State. Finally the little-team-that-could with LeBron and Tristan Thompson -- they suddenly realized they couldn't beat Golden State. 'We're out of gas.'" 

A shorter regular season
Pluto says he thinks the problem is with the regular season's 82-game schedule.

"I'd cut it down to 62 games. I'd rather watch the playoffs; the playoffs are more interesting. But they won't do that becausethey want all the revenue from the 82 games."

"That's why sometimes people say the best team on April 16 when the playoffs begin is not necessarily going to be best team by June 2, when the Finals begin because so much can happen in a month and a half.

When LeBron shines
"This is where they say the great players can rule because what do you do when the play breaks down? Can you make something up? And that's what LeBron James can do. And that's why he's been to the last five consecutive NBA Finals.

"And that's why if you had to bet, I would bet on LeBron taking them back there to their sixth consecutive NBA Finals. Because he's LeBron."

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