How do standings work in the NBA?


Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

The NBA is without a doubt the most popular basketball league in the world. It attracts a lot of viewers not only in the United States but the rest of the globe as well, with millions of fans watching the matches regularly. The regular season is the most important part which is closely connected to standings. Have you ever wondered how the standings in the NBA work?

How do standings work in the NBA? All NBA teams, split into two divisions, play 82 games and the top 8 places are automatically guaranteed to take part in the playoffs. At the same time, the best seed of each division is automatically given a place in the post-season. 

Standings are extremely important to determine the teams that will advance to the playoffs and eventually fight for the championship title. In this article, we will have a closer look at this aspect and how everything looks.

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Brief History

The NBA is conservative and tries not to change the rules unnecessarily. First of all, this concerns the system of the season. This regulation has not changed for a long time – since 1968. This is despite the fact that the number of teams in the NBA periodically increases. The latter shows that the NBA is loyal to its history and does not make unnecessary changes when there is no need of adopting new rules and regulations.

How are the conferences divided?

According to their geographical location, the NBA clubs are divided into conferences – Western and Eastern. In each of these conferences, there are 15 teams. These teams play against each other and as we have already mentioned above 8 teams are guaranteed to enter directly to the playoffs. The 2020/2021 season was an exception as there was a play-in tournament introduced by the league. It was actually the first time when such an event was held and there are rumours that it might continue in the future, even though this format had a lot of opponents inside the league.

What do the divisions look like?

Each of these conferences includes 3 divisions: Pacific, North and South-West (belong to the West), Central, South-East and Atlantic (belong to the East). There are 5 teams in 6 divisions respectively which fight for the playoffs and the winner of each division is immediately given the berth to the playoffs.

The regular season

The NBA season starts with the regular season. All teams play the same number of games in it. Each team plays 4 matches with the clubs of its conference (two home matches and two away matches). The rest of the games are played with clubs representing another conference. Here the number of matches with each of the teams may be different. With some clubs, 2 matches are played, with others – 3. It all depends on how the calendar is drawn up, which is generated automatically using a special program. As we have already mentioned above, the 2020/2021 season was exceptional in many ways. Considering the coronavirus pandemic, which brought a major impact to sports around the world, the season was cut short to 72 games and the agenda was changed a little.

As a rule, the regular season starts at the very end of October and ends in the second decade of April. But the playoffs can go until mid-June. If there are no massive exceptions as it was during the Covid pandemic the structure does not really change and follows a general pattern.

What does home/away mean in standings?

This one is pretty straightforward – in the NBA standings, you will often see a graph where home and away sections are indicated. As their names already suggest, it shows how a particular team on its home and away courts. There are also losses and wins shown alongside. In some standings, you will also see a “streak” which is basically an indicator of how many matches a team has won/lost in a row.

What is the meaning of a percentage?

The percentage is also closely related to the winning and losing of a specific team. It is actually pretty easy to calculate. For example, during the 2020/2021 season, the Philadelphia 76ers won 49 and lost only 23 games. They have won 68% of their games. The team with the largest percentage automatically takes a better place than its counterpart.

What happens after the season is finished?

At the end of the regular season, the clubs that scored the most points in their divisions receive the title of regular-season champions and automatically advance to the playoffs. The rest of the conference teams distribute places among themselves depending on the difference in the number of victories and defeats in the season. The top five clubs also go to the second round. As a result, 8 teams advance from each conference to the playoffs.

What about the playoffs?

Standings are not really important during the playoffs, but still, it is necessary to talk about it. At this stage, the clubs are divided into pairs and play according to the Olympic system of a series of games up to 4 wins. Pairs are formed depending on the number of victories and defeats in the season (the difference between them). At the same time, the team that took the first place in its conference on this parameter meets with the last one, the 2nd – with the 7th, the 3rd plays with the 6th, and the 4th – with the 5th. In the next round, the pair winners meet in the same way, with only the final taking place between clubs from different conferences.

Louis

I fell in love with Basketball when I was about 9 years old. Since then I have played on, coached and organised many teams. I've followed the NBA ever since. With no home team I've always rooted for teams and players I like the style of. The last 2 decades that's meant Greg Popoviches Spurs for the most part. My favourite NBA podcasts are The Lowe Post, Open Floor and The Ringers "The Mismatch".

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