The NBA Playoff Structure Is Cheating Fans Out Of Good Basketball
The Eastern Conference is bad. You know this already.
While the Western Conference is president of speech and debate, captain of the soccer team and lead in the school musical, the Eastern Conference really likes to play Call of Duty after school.
We know the East is awful in theory, but the specifics are jarring. The Eastern Conference is the worst it has been since the league structured teams into six divisions.
As of today, three teams under .500 will make the playoffs in the East. Two teams over .500 will miss the playoffs in the West. In the last 12 seasons, the Western Conference has won the title nine times.
And, if the Lakers hadn't lost a championship in 2004 with four Hall-of-Famers in their starting lineup, and Ray Allen hadn't hit the shot of his life in 2013, the West would have two more titles.
It is laughable, not just quantitatively, but qualitatively. The playoff picture is ugly.
The Picture in the East
The Heat will make the playoffs. The Heat are not a good team.
When LeBron left, they entered full-blown salvage mode. They were saved by Hassan Whiteside's literally-out-of-nowhere ascendence, and they made the most out of the Goran Dragic panic.
It will be a fun series with the Cavs, but with Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts out for the season, and Dwayne Wade mounting the hill of his 30s, the Heat have as good of a chance at winning the title as Action Bronson does running a five-minute mile.
The Celtics are the East's eighth seed. They weren't even trying to make the playoffs this season.
But, Head Coach Brad Stevens is a basketball warlock who squeezes every drop of talent out of his middling players, and so the Celtics are going to stumble into the playoffs as an appetizer for the Hawks.
Evan Turner recently notched a triple-double, and Isaiah Thomas has been going crazy, averaging nearly 20 points a game, but don't be fooled.
Turner and Thomas are just the lone remaining players of acceptable competency, and they've taken the utter lack of talent on the team as a green light to do all the things they were forbidden to do elsewhere. Still, this team has the same record as the lowly Utah Jazz.
While these stinkers will be clogging up national television with their already-over series, two out of the OKC, Phoenix and New Orleans trio will be watching from home.
The Picture in the West
Phoenix went from dark-horse darling to train wreck in the last few months. Their three-guard experiment with Thomas, Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was intriguing, but failed.
Now, only Bledsoe remains, accompanied by the mercurial Brandon Knight, who the Suns bet a top-ten draft pick on to succeed.
The team still features the frisky Morii twins, the massive potential of Alex Len and the absurd hops of Gerald Green. They have won seven more games than the Celtics, but they're the least interesting of the three.
New Orleans has been like a theme park with seven decent rides that everyone ignores, and one nationally-famous ride so amazing, it bends our very conception of reality.
Anthony Davis is this almost unimaginable wonder. Over this season, he's been putting up a baffling 24 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks a game. That's nuts.
We don't even know what he'll become. He could be a nimble offensive hub in the post like Duncan or the Gasols, or he could be an unguardable stretch big like LaMarcus Aldridge or Dirk Nowitzki.
Davis is the heir to the MVP throne. He's un-tradeable. That little noise you hear at night? That's the sound of every other executive weeping when they think about playing Davis for the next decade.
Finally, the most talent top-heavy team in the league, OKC, currently have their fingernails in the eighth seed. They made the right decision to shut down Kevin Durant's season to save his feet, but missing last season's MVP basically gave the Thunder gasoline suits for their hellish trip through the West.
Serge Ibaka is also injured and has no timetable for his return. So, for the past few weeks, Russell Westbrook has been out of his mind, casually throwing up triple-doubles while captaining the offense and defense with the energy of three shotgunned Red Bulls.
The team has been strapped to his back, but the rope is straining. It will be mythic to watch this human wolverine try to snarl his way to a championship, which won't happen, but the Thunder will be a supernova in defeat.
Why It Needs to Change
In any case, none of the teams in the West should miss a shot at a title because the NBA still has an archaic system.
Adam Silver has been open to changing the structure of the playoffs, and this season must be the final straw. Instead of watching both Westbrook and Davis go bonkers, we will be treated to D-Wade and Isaiah Thomas attempting as many fall-away jumpers as they can pack into the four games of their sweep.
The playoffs should be a tournament amongst the top 16 teams in the league. Travel concerns are irrelevant, and we're denying ourselves better basketball due to inertia.
A mediocre performance within the putrid Eastern Conference does not deserve a playoff berth.