Ways to fix the NBA playoffs’ dreary days

Every year during the NBA playoffs, I grouse about how boring they are and end up writing a mean-spirited column begging for one exciting moment to appear in a sea of interminable dullness.

Every year during the NBA playoffs, I grouse about how boring they are and end up writing a mean-spirited column begging for one exciting moment to appear in a sea of interminable dullness.

This year is no different, except that I have a plan to mix things up. I won’t waste your time by explaining just how sad the conference finals have been, because anyone who’s tuned into more than two minutes of a game knows that San Antonio, Utah, Cleveland and Detroit play some pretty yawn-inspiring ball.

The Spurs, Jazz and Pistons play hard defense and execute an efficient offensive scheme. The Cavaliers, thanks to LeBron James, clear out and let their superstar isolate and create offense. Clearly, none of these teams hold a candle to the frenetic energy of, say, the Golden State Warriors or Phoenix Suns.

But I really don’t think it’s the style of play that makes these games so unbearable for the casual fan, or even NBA diehard, for that matter.

Why does America go crazy over March Madness? Why are college football and NFL games such a big deal? Because, as the clich퀌� goes, every single game counts. It’s really a case of quality over quantity.

Though, not so in the NBA, where TNT markets the playoffs as “40 games in 40 nights.” Ugh. The eventual champion might end up playing 28 games if each series goes to Game 7. That’s another third of an 82-game regular season, which most elite teams cruise through to get to the postseason anyway.

There remains an easy way to ratchet up the intensity of the playoffs: reduce the number of games played. When over half the teams in the league make the postseason, there is no reason that first-round series should be a best-of-seven marathon.

Look at the structure of other professional sports leagues. The NFL features a first-round bye for the league’s best teams, meaning that No. 1 and 2 seeds are truly valuable because those teams only play two must-win games to get to the Super Bowl.

In the MLB, there are only two series before the World Series, the five-game Divisional Series and the seven-game League Championship series. The series champ would play a maximum of 21 games, only 12 percent of the regular season’s 162-game schedule.

Why, then, does a league with half as many regular season games as baseball invite 16 of its 30 teams to the playoffs, only to have the entire affair drag on for a month and a half?

Here’s what the Beer Garden proposes: first-round series are three games long, followed by a best-of-five series during the semifinals before two best-of-seven series during the conference finals and NBA finals.

Before you scream blasphemy and report me to Stu Jackson for a suspension, just hear me out. Everyone was in love with the first two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs this year. But by the time San Antonio and Utah had separated themselves from the rest of the pack, the honeymoon was over and Kobe Bryant was stealing headlines from the Spurs’ series-clinching Game 5 win.

The reason is simple enough. Fans got bored. So bored that more were watching a rained-out Indy 500 on Sunday than Game 3 of the Jazz-Spurs series on Saturday. When open-wheel racing beats out the NBA playoffs, well, that’s just a red flag that screams the league is on its way to being completely irrelevant.

To keep the NBA’s three remaining fans engaged in the years to come, NBA Commissioner David Stern and his suit-donning cronies would do well to remember that before the playoffs even start teams have played 90 games, including eight preseason contests.

The playoffs are meant to crown a champion, and that is going to happen whether each series is three games long or 30. The only difference is how many people are going to tune in when the Larry O’Brien Trophy is finally given out.