The Clippers, factoring tiebreakers, had the NBA’s fourth-best record. The Spurs ranked sixth.
Yet, in a 16-team playoff, they’re playing each other in the first round – and one of them will be done Saturday (or early Sunday if Gregg Popovich keeps having San Antonio intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan).
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
“It’s ridiculous that it’s a first-round series,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports late Thursday. “That was the first thing Pop said to me before Game 1, and I said the same thing. But we both decided, ‘What the hell, it is what it is.’ But this is ridiculous.”
The 51-win Trail Blazers jumped the 55-win Grizzlies and 55-win Spurs for the No. 4 seed, because Portland won the Northwest Division and was therefore guaranteed a top-four seed. Not only did that punish San Antonio, which would have had an easier matchup and home-court advantage against the Grizzlies in the 4-5, it punished the Clippers, who have to play the Spurs instead of the Trail Blazers.
Does anyone care enough about Portland’s division title to scramble the playoff seeding? Would anyone care less if division winners didn’t get that advantage?
Of course, removing division winners’ advantages would only do so much. The bigger issue is the conference disparity, but there’s no easy fix there.
Eliminating conference distinctions in the playoffs would – or at least should – mean balancing the schedule. But that would mean players having to travel more, lower TV ratings due to more games played outside the visiting team’s time zone and fewer teams from the Eastern Conference – which holds more large markets – in the postseason. There are economic factors in play beyond what’s most fair.
But, no, it isn’t fair that the Clippers or Spurs will be eliminated so soon. That’s why the NBA is looking into changing the playoff format.