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Solving the NBA's Conference Imbalance

Get rid of them!

by James Leroy Wilson
May 26, 2015

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Solving the NBA's Conference Imbalance

As of this writing, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers appear headed to the NBA Finals.

In such a contest, the Warriors will be heavily favored because it's facing an exhausted LeBron James, and a hobbled Kyrie Irving. It won't have to face the injured Kevin Love at all.

That a broken Cavs team can go up 3-0 on the 60-win Atlanta Hawks team is a testament to James's greatness. But many also say it underscores the weakness of the Eastern Conference.

The complaint's been ongoing for years. Since Michael Jordan retired, the West has won 11 out of 16 titles. Sometimes, a 45-win team in the West missed the playoffs the same year one or two teams with losing records made it in the East.

Some, notably Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, have called for conference re-alignment.

But I have a question: why have conferences at all?

The reason seems to be, "because we've always had them!" It's ingrained in major American sports leagues.

But the NBA can shake it up. Instead of two conferences of three divisions just, have five divisions.

These teams will be geographically close -- or as close as can be in the West. At least, no one has to travel across two time zones to face division rivals, as three teams in the Northwest Division currently have to do.

Here are the proposed divisions, followed by explanations of scheduling and the playoffs:

Great Lakes (or, for fun, the Jordan Division)

Minnesota

Milwaukee

Chicago

Indianapolis

Detroit

Cleveland

 

Northeast (Russell Division)

Toronto

Boston

New York

Brooklyn

Philadelphia

Washington

 

Southeast (um, uh, Elvis Division?)

Charlotte

Atlanta

Orlando

Miami

Memphis

New Orleans

 

Southwest (Duncan Division)

Houston

San Antonio

Dallas

Oklahoma City

Denver

Utah             

 

Pacific (Kareem Division)

Phoenix

LA Clippers

LA Lakers

Golden State

Sacramento

Portland

 

SCHEDULE

  • 6 games each vs. division opponents = 30 games; home court split evenly.
  • 3 games each vs. one team in each other division, according to last season's placing (1st place v 1st place, 2nd place vs 2nd place) = 12 games. Home court will be 2-1 against two of these teams, and 1-2 against the other two.
  • 2 games each vs. remaining non-division teams = 40 games; home court split evenly.

Total: 82 games, same as now!

PLAYOFFS:

  • Playoff seeding is 1-16, according to record.
  • In the event of identical records, the higher seed goes to the team that finished higher in its own division (2nd place in a division seeds higher than 3rd place if the records are the same)
  • If there's still a tie for seeding, the team with the better non-division record gets the higher seed

(No need to go on with further tie-breakers at this point.)

This will mean:

  • More geographical rivalry games
  • Incentive to finish as well as possible in conference standings, not just overall standings
  • A greater likelihood that the two best, or most-deserving, teams end up in the finals.

Why have conferences?    

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