By Scott Tibbs, April 23, 2007
The Miami Heat, with a 44-38 record, are the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Their opponents, the Chicago Bulls, are the #5 seed with a 49-33 record. Chicago has the home court advantage in this series.
The Utah Jazz, with a 51-31 record, are the #4 seed in the Western Conference. Their opponents, the Houston Rockets, are the #5 seed with a 52-30 record. Houston has the home court advantage in this series.
Does anyone notice something wrong with this picture?
This match up was made possible by the NBA playoff seeding system. The NBA has made some improvements since last year, when the San Antonio Spurs had the second best record in the Western Conference but were seeded fourth because the top three seeds automatically went to the division champions. This resulted in the two best teams in the West meeting in the second round instead of the conference finals.
But putting San Antonio in fourth place was not even the silliest match up in the 2006 playoffs. The Denver Nuggets, seeded third, had a worse record than the Los Angeles Clippers, seeded sixth. The Clippers had home court advantage in that series.
This year, the #2 seed goes to the team with the second-best record in the conference. While this is an improvement, the playoff rankings still do not match the regular season standings. Before the NBA went from 4 divisions to 6, it was impossible to have a fifth seed have home court advantage over a fourth seed.
The NBA says they want to give division champions a higher seed to emphasize the importance of winning a division. But when a #6 seed has home court advantage over a #3 seed, what is the point of this system? By having three divisions per conference instead of two, the NBA has only managed to devalue division championships.
The answer, of course, is for the NBA to admit that this is a mistake and go back to the old system. This would increase the value of a division title. While you could still have playoff match ups that do not reflect the actual standings, the playoff brackets would make much more sense than they have the last two seasons.