The Pressure of the NBA Playoffs

18 May 2023
3 min read

Dr Ross Flowers is a sport psychologist with over 20 years of experience in high-performance sport including working with both the Los Angeles Clippers and the Lakers.

In this exclusive blog for OMP Coach Flowers speaks about what it takes for NBA players to perform at their best during the pressure of the NBA finals, based off his experience working with the Lakers during their 2020 Championship winning season.

The intensity and highly competitive environment of the NBA playoffs can be overwhelming. For some, high pressure situations create questions, doubts, fears and concerns about the present and an unknown future outcome. Some will question their readiness, training, personal strengths or abilities, and team competitiveness.

Dr Flowers poses with the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in 2020.

High pressure playoff environments are ample playgrounds for mental performance skills. Individually, players can use effective breathing to manage unwanted emotions and help refocus attention in the moment; reinforcing positive cues and successful visualization can help support confidence and focus on successful performance behaviors; and engaging in positive distractions to ease tension and feelings of pressure.

For some players, watching highlights of games is a helpful tool to learn what works well for in-game situations and what can be learned about an opponent. For others, using healthy social outlets to get way from the game are helpful to separate from the intensity of the game. Yet, others prefer rest and relaxation of the mind and body with sleep, meditation, or just being still to rejuvenate and reload for the next game.

Whether it’s a team competing in a bubble for a championship, on the road in a hostile opposing team environment , or at home with a supporting fan base the methods of establishing competence to become confident in performance is necessary for playoff success.

The NBA playoffs offer teams the opportunity to come together and use the attributes of competency that have been developed during the 82 game season to have confidence in every member of the team to perform.

As players become familiar with one another, get to know each other’s strengths, motivators, distractions, commitments and methods of follow through, a trust and belief in one another is built Playing through close games, exciting wins and tough losses helps a team build self-awareness and knowledge about what behaviors to develop, reinforce and trust.

Those trusted behaviors become favorable skills that teams can have faith in executing with a high percentage of confidence.

Being in the 2020 NBA Orlando Bubble I saw teams who made a commitment to grow together and strengthen their individual and team awareness, knowledge and skills into a higher level of competency. Those who invested themselves, their knowledge, energy, trust and talent into their team and how they collectively play the game we’re rewarded as the sum of their individual talents evolved into a greater outcome of a championship.

Let’s see how mental performance skills impact performance in this year’s NBA playoff pursuit of the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy!



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