Last season the Atlanta Hawks got into the playoffs with a 38-44 record, while the Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs with a 48-34 record. Another season and the bottom half of the Eastern Conference is weak.
Some people call it the Leastern Conference. According to Marc Stein the West’s winning percentage in cross-conference games this season is .684.
Others believe the East will eventually get better and the power will balance out between the conferences. Right now the seventh and eighth seed in the East are under .500. The East’s best team record wise, the Toronto Raptors would be tied for fifth in the West.
Now more than ever I keep hearing about eliminating conferences. The NBA should just take the top 16 teams for the playoffs. Sure the Hawks pushed a Pacers team that was falling apart in the second half of the season to seven games last season but the Suns were the better team and should have been in the playoffs.
If we look back the Eastern Conference has been weak for a while now. Since 2000 only the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat (3x), and Boston Celtics have won an NBA title.
Not counting the lockout season, since 2004-05 the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference has finished with a record at .500 or above .500 just twice. The New Jersey Nets in 2004-05 finished 42-40 and the 2009-10 Chicago Bulls finished 41-41.
In that same span the Western Conference has had nine teams finish with a record above .500. Let’s look at the 2009-10 season the Oklahoma City Thunder got the eighth seed with a 50-32 record. If they were in the East they would have gotten the fourth seed.
Also during that span the ninth seed in the West has finished with 44, 41, 48, 46, 42, 43, and 48 wins. Better records than Eastern Conference teams but missed the playoffs.
Eliminating conferences will allow the best teams to get in and the playoff battles will be even better. In the regular season teams can still play similar schedules as they do now. Maybe schedule more games between the best players in the league. Travel should not be an issue for teams nowadays.
I can hear people complaining about matchups and rivalries. What good rivalries are there in the NBA playoffs? The Heat-Pacers won’t have the same magnitude without LeBron being in Miami. I don’t really want to watch another Grizzlies-Clippers series. The Grizzlies have had some good matchups with the Spurs and Thunder.
LeBron seems to have a personal rivalry with the Chicago Bulls and any other team he faces multiple times in the playoffs.
There should still be two sides in the playoffs. The league can come up with names for them. Last season the first round would like this:
1 Spurs-Bobcats(16) 5 Heat-Raptors(12)
4 Pacers-Bulls(13) 8 Warriors-Grizzlies(9)
2 Thunder-Nets(15) 6 Rockets-Suns(11)
3 Clippers-Wizards(14) 7 Blazers-Mavs(10)
Keep in the mind that the Heat, Rockets and Blazers all finished with same record and could be 5, 6 or 7. You can pick the winners yourself and the Heat could end up playing the Spurs but it will be a tougher road for them.
So basically the top four teams are on one side and they play the bottom four seeds. The other eight teams are on the other side. The playoff format stays the same but we will see an East-West matchup before the Finals.
With the new format we get to see new matchups in the playoffs and watch new rivalries emerge. The East is weaker but their top teams have some talent and could beat a Western Conference team.
As fans we will see the best teams competing for a title. There is potential for more upsets and even seven game series.
It’s time for the league to make a change. A MVP candidate on an under .500 team would not get votes so a team that is under .500 should not be able to make the playoffs.