The NBA playoff pool is deeper than ever this season.
Playoff teams will split a record $23,287,266 for making the NBA postseason, a figure that’s up about $1.6 million from last year.
And the Milwaukee Bucks stand to grab the biggest share of a pool ever, if they win the NBA title. The Bucks would split $6,827,848 if they won the NBA championship, based on the formula worked out by the NBA.
The Bucks have already secured $1,606,897 from the pool by having the best record in the NBA, the best record in the Eastern Conference and making the first round. The top six teams in each conference get a bonus for their finish in the regular season.
From there, the breakdown is this:
* First-round qualifiers make $347,545.
* Conference semifinalists get another $413,534.
* Conference finalists get another $683,363.
The biggest slices, of course, go to the teams that make the NBA Finals. The losing team receives another $2,732,699, while the NBA champions get another $4,124,054.
For winning the NBA title last season, the Toronto Raptors split $5.6 million from the playoff pool.
Leonard chasing history
If Kawhi Leonard wins an NBA Finals MVP award with the Los Angeles Clippers this season, he’d do something that nobody has ever done — three finals MVPs with three different teams.
Leonard was finals MVP for San Antonio in 2014 and for Toronto last year. Besides Leonard, only LeBron James (with Miami in 2012 and 2013, then Cleveland in 2016) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (with Milwaukee in 1971 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985) have won finals MVPs with two different franchises.
If the Lakers or Clippers win the title, it’ll be another rarity. If the Lakers win, James and Danny Green (San Antonio, Toronto) would have championships with three different teams; if the Clippers win, Leonard would be on that list.
The only players in NBA history to win titles with three different teams, to this point, are John Salley and Robert Horry.
Why division titles matter
Division championships in the NBA don’t seem to mean much anymore.
Well, maybe they do.
If history holds, one of these six teams — Toronto, Milwaukee, Miami, Denver, Houston or the Los Angeles Lakers — will win the NBA title this season.
Every finals team since 2012 has done so after winning a division title. The last team not to win its division but make the finals was Dallas, which won the title in 2011. And the last time an NBA Finals had two non-division-winning teams was 2007, when San Antonio topped Cleveland.
3 stats to watch for
A few numbers to watch during the playoffs:
* LeBron James is 89 points away from 7,000 career postseason points. Nobody else has even reached 6,000; Michael Jordan had 5,987. James nearly has more playoff points than any other three players entering these playoffs do in their postseason careers combined. James Harden (2,654), Russell Westbrook (2,489) and Kawhi Leonard (2,164) have 7,307 between them.
* If the Lakers make a deep run, James could also take over the No. 1 spot on the postseason games played list. He’s been in 239, behind Derek Fisher (259), Tim Duncan (251) and Robert Horry (244). James is already the NBA career playoff leader in minutes, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and steals.
* Boston’s Gordon Hayward has made 95.5% of his playoff free throws (106 for 111). Nobody with at least 100 career postseason makes from the line has ever been better; Mark Price is No. 2 at 94.4%.
For the first time since 2015, teams with a losing record made the playoffs.
And for the first time since 1997, three teams below the .500 mark found their way into the postseason. Portland, Brooklyn and Orlando all finished the regular season with losing records — yet are still alive in the race for the NBA title.
Boston and Brooklyn were the last teams to get to the playoffs with losing marks, both getting there in 2015. Minnesota, Phoenix and the LA Clippers were the three teams that did it in 1987.
The last time there were more than three sub-.500 teams in the playoffs was 1986, when six made the field.
No team with a losing record has won a playoff series since 1987, when the Seattle SuperSonics won two rounds to reach the West finals. Since that season, sub-.500 teams are 0-26 in first-round matchups.
Quick note about officials
Aaron Smith and Dedric Taylor will part of the playoff referee staff for the first time, the lone postseason rookies on the 40-person roster for the first round. Smith is one of four alternates, and Taylor is one of the 36 referees chosen to call games.
Smith is in his fourth NBA season and worked the G League finals in 2016 and 2017. Taylor is in his sixth NBA season, eventually getting there after spending 13 years driving for UPS and working for the parks and recreation department in North Miami Beach, Florida.
The rest of the lineup of officials for Round 1: Mark Ayotte, Curtis Blair, Tony Brothers, Tony Brown, James Capers, Derrick Collins, Sean Corbin, Kevin Cutler, Marc Davis, Kane Fitzgerald, Tyler Ford, Brian Forte, Scott Foster, Pat Fraher, John Goble, David Guthrie, Bill Kennedy, Courtney Kirkland, Eric Lewis, Tre Maddox, Ed Malloy, Rodney Mott, Gediminas Petraitis, Kevin Scott, Michael Smith, Ben Taylor, Josh Tiven, James Williams, Leon Wood, Sean Wright and Zach Zarba.
Along with Aaron Smith, the alternates are Brett Barnaky, Nick Buchert and Mark Lindsay.
Foster has the most playoff experience, working the postseason for the 21st time. He’s one of six referees on this season’s postseason roster with more than 100 games worked, with 188 — the others being Brothers (140), Capers (135), Davis (132), Malloy (111) and Kennedy (104).
Toronto & the No. 23
If the Toronto Raptors win this NBA title, there can be no doubt that the team’s magic number this season would be 23.
Or maybe 23-9, to be more specific.
When the season was stopped on March 11 because of the pandemic, the Raptors were exactly 23-9 at home and 23-9 on the road.
At Disney in the seeding games, they went 7-1. They went 16-8 last season in the playoffs, and if they do exactly that this year — yes, they would have gone exactly 23-9 at Disney this year as well.
Game 1 matters
Inevitably, some version of the stat that says Game 1 winners almost always go on to win a best-of-seven series will come up after the opening game of every matchup. And it is true: Since the 16-team playoff format was adopted, teams with a 1-0 series lead ultimately win 78.3% of the time.
But last year showed that 1-0 deficits don’t doom a club, either.
There were six teams last season that lost Game 1 but went on to win a series — matching the most of any year in the 16-team format.
The six teams that rallied were Toronto (East finals vs. Milwaukee and first round vs. Orlando), Milwaukee (East semifinals vs. Boston), Portland (West semifinals vs. Denver), Philadelphia (East first round vs. Brooklyn) and Denver (West first round vs. San Antonio).
Will home court matter?
Since 1984, home teams have won 411 of 540 playoff games played — 76.1%. Of course, much of that can be attributed to having 20,000 or so screaming fans cheering teams on in those games.
Will it matter without fans in the bubble? Time will tell.
During the restart, teams went 49-39 in matchups designated as “home” games — a 55.7% clip in those contests where they got to see their logos on the video boards and hear their usual pregame music. And that is close to what teams were doing outside the bubble this season, when home teams prevailed 55.1% of the time.
A family affair
Callie Rivers Curry cannot lose in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Either her father is going to the second round, or her busband is.
The Los Angeles Clippers play Dallas in the first round. Callie’s father is Clippers coach Doc Rivers. Her husband is Mavericks guard Seth Curry.
“I don’t think she’s rooting for me,” Doc Rivers said, “but I’m not so sure.”