Yet there’s also no denying that there are some real obstacles to ditching the practice of seeding playoff teams 1 through 8 by conference and instituting a 1-to-16 seeding protocol based purely on overall record. Obstacle No. 1: League officials, based on a study of historical data, estimate that the change would increase the cumulative travel for the 16 playoff teams by more than 40 percent every postseason.
Obstacle No. 2: Almost every schedule-related change implemented by the league office in recent years has been motivated by a push to prioritize player health and to chip away at the various factors — too much travel, too many back-to-back games, too many unholy stretches of four games in five nights — that make the current 82-game regular-season schedule the dreaded grind that it is. Adding an estimated 40,000 miles of cumulative playoff travel to the roughly 90,000 miles last season’s 16 playoff clubs logged would work against all those measures.
And perhaps the biggest obstacle: N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver cannot unilaterally change the league’s playoff format or seeding procedures, even if he wanted to. League rules dictate that a two-thirds vote of N.B.A. owners would be required to approve such an overhaul. That’s 20 owners out of 30. So even if 15 out of 15 owners in the West were prepared to vote in favor of conference-free playoff seeding, where would Silver find five in the East willing to co-sign?
Owners in the Least, er, East are willingly going to make things even tougher? Not likely. Silver, mind you, hasn’t signaled that he’s seriously in favor of changing the format anyway. Not without a much more balanced regular-season schedule.
The NBA estimates an increase of about 40,000 miles of travel in the postseason if it scrapped its current conference format and took the top 16 teams. Calls to change the system were renewed this week when LeBron James left Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers, which could create another strong Western Conference team after Houston and Golden State had the league’s top two records last season. They met in a thrilling West final before the Warriors swept the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
The league says it averages about 90,000 miles of total travel in the postseason and estimates that would increase to about 130,000. It estimates, based on historical data, an average of 2 ½ series per year matching an East against a West team before the NBA Finals, with about a 90 percent chance of at least one per season.