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Let’s change the NBA’s playoff seeding system

By seeding by record regardless of conference, the NBA Playoffs would be fairer, fresher, and more competitive.

NBA: All Star Game-Commissioner Press Conference Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the Western Conference has been the more competitive conference in the NBA. Not only does LeBron James rule the East with an iron fist, the bottom of the West has generally been stronger than that of the East. Recently, the exodus of star talent from the East has only made the differences between the two more apparent.

During All-Star Weekend, NBA commissioner Adam Silver hinted that the league has had discussions about a change that would seed the playoffs by record, disregarding conference. He explained, “You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals. You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Such a change would put better teams in the playoffs, provide interesting new matchups, and hopefully lead to more competition. If we were to use 1-16 seeding today, we would have nine teams in the West and seven teams in the East: the Clippers would barely beat out the Heat for the last spot in the playoffs. Many of the matchups would feature one West team and one East team, something that would never happen under the current system.

And perhaps most importantly, the talent will be spread across the bracket more evenly. No longer will LeBron James waltz into the NBA Finals every year: he’ll have to eliminate at least one West titan beforehand.

There are disadvantages too. One is that inter-conference rivalries will be of diminished prominence since playoff series between the two teams will be less likely. But there aren’t many significant ones in the league currently, and I would rather see fresh matchups rather than retreads.

The chief concern is the amount of travel the new seeding system would require. Cross-country travel for a series between two faraway cities would likely require more rest days to ensure the players’ health. In a seven-game series that could switch locations four times, the traveling miles can add up.

Figuring out exactly how much more rest the new playoff seeding would require is crucial. Hopefully, it can be resolved by adding a few more rest days where they’re needed.

Changing the seeding method officially will be difficult. 20 of the 30 teams would have to agree to it, and I predict that many teams in the East will opt against the change to protect their playoff chances. Although the idea has some momentum, it is still only theoretical.

Ultimately, I think seeding teams from 1 to 16 is better than their current seeding by conference. It’s fairer, more competitive, and probably more interesting to watch. Hopefully, the league gives it a serious shot.

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