If the NBA abandoned its Eastern and Western Conference playoff system, and only eight spots were available rather than the present 16, a mere two teams on the right coast (the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers) would make the postseason.
In that scenario Miami would presently be the No. 4 seed and Indiana the No. 5, which would leave the league with one Eastern Conference team guaranteed to play at least into the second round.
Nevertheless, this is the system that NBA fans have, and it has left the door open for possibly undeserving teams to make some semblance of noise in the playoffs.
While a massive chunk of the country would miss playoff basketball if the NBA did away with the conference system and only allowed the eight best teams into the postseason, it would still guarantee the highest quality of play for fans and make sure deserving teams are rewarded.
If it started today, the surprising Phoenix Suns would miss the postseason out West despite a 44-31 record, but the 33-43 New York Knicks would hold down the final spot in the East. Also the 37-38 Charlotte Bobcats would own the No. 7 spot, while Kevin Love and the 37-37 Minnesota Timberwolves would have to plan early vacations.
As TrueHoop pointed out on Wednesday, this season is another example of a disturbing trend of East teams with losing records making the postseason. In seven of the last eight seasons at least one East squad has made the postseason with a .500 or worse record. The last time that happened in the West was the 1998-99 lockout season.
As of now the Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks are jostling for the final spot in the East. Only the No.7 and No. 8 seeds remain up for grabs, with Charlotte still technically in danger of missing out once again.
Out West there could be significant changes between the No. 4 to No. 8 spots and there’s also a very tight three team race at the bottom. The high-flying Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Phoenix are all knotted at 44-31 with the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds undecided.
Below are predictions for who will make the playoffs as well as where they will be seeded.
Breakdown: Given their immense struggles on both sides of the floor, it’s difficult to pick the Knicks to make it with their final six games all against teams with winning records. Toronto gets the edge over Chicago, but only due to it having one more home game left in its remaining seven. Washington could catch Brooklyn, but the Nets are one of the hottest teams in the league.
Breakdown: The Suns have the toughest test with five of their last seven games against +.500 teams, and five road games. Dallas gets the nod but their April 12 matchup against Phoenix could be a turning point for both teams. In contrast, the Grizzlies move up to the No. 7 spot with a slightly easier schedule that includes four games at home.
No one will catch the Spurs who could end the regular season on a 26-game win streak, one less than Miami’s incredible run last season. The Clippers could still catch OKC, and their final matchup of the regular season next week might be the deciding factor. Houston owns the season series 3-1 over Portland, so it will have to really tumble down the stretch to lose the No. 4 spot.