During the regular season, the goal for the majority of teams in American sports is to make it through to the playoffs. That’s where the real chance of glory comes, but many view just getting to the postseason as success in itself. Here’s why the playoffs really are a completely different sport to the regular season.
Changes in form
One of the biggest things that separates the regular season from the playoffs is the schedule. In leagues like the NBA, NHL, and MLB, teams play a lot of games, and during the season, many factors dictate how a team plays.
Sometimes teams may be dealing with a lot of injuries to important players, or perhaps they’ve got a series of road games to contend with. There are many ups and downs during the regular season, and it really becomes a case of hanging on in there at times for every team. Even the strongest teams go through patches of form where they struggle to win, but that can all change when it gets to the playoffs.
It happens so often that a team seeded higher doesn’t end up beating the teams they are supposed to. In the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 2019 season, all four of the wild cards made it past what in theory was meant to be stronger opposition. With Carolina making it all the way to their conference finals.
In the most recent season in the NBA, the games mostly went how they were meant to, but the season before was a different story. Toronto in 2018 was expected to make it to the conference finals, and possibly even the NBA final in 2018, but were dumped out by Cleveland who was four places below them.
Teams don’t always play to the same league form that got them to the playoffs. Teams who make it through the tough schedule deserve to be in the playoffs, but the circumstances change when they get there.
No longer are they coming up against teams who might have been on the road for longer than they remember. It’s all about the head to head record, and that can tell a different story to the final regular season standings.
One of the biggest things that separates the regular season from the playoffs, is the mentality it requires to succeed. During the regular season, there is no way of knowing for sure whether one result is particularly good or bad until all the games have been played.
That can mean that some teams aren’t up for the fight, especially if they’re coming off a tough week due to the schedule. Stronger teams can get by because they have the depth of talent, or are fortunate enough that their star players largely remain injury-free.
Weaker teams in the regular season might not put up much of a fight, but when it gets to the playoffs, their mentality changes. Now they know that getting good results will put them through to the next stage, so they up their game and play perhaps beyond what people thought they were capable of.
It’s important not to read too much into the form of some teams when it comes to the regular season. Instead, we need to see why they have struggled in some games to assess whether they can still be a force in the playoffs or not.