By John Hollinger
Fix this playoff format, please
There's an interesting situation brewing in both conferences, and having watched both San Antonio and Dallas roll to victories tonight, it seems like a good time to bring it up.
As many observers have already noted, two divisions in particular seem absolutely loaded this year: The Central Division in the East, with Detroit, Indiana, Cleveland and Milwaukee, and the Southwest Division in the West, with San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Memphis.
Early indications are that these divisions may very well house the two best teams in each conference. San Antonio and Dallas look head and shoulders above the competition in the West -- they sport the conference's two best records after Thursday's games -- while Detroit and Cleveland similarly sit atop the East. Seeing that juxtaposition, the fan in all of us immediately thinks, "Wow, wouldn't that make for a great conference finals."
Well forget it, because the NBA has assured that it won't happen. By setting up the playoff system so that the three division winners get the top three seeds in each conference, the league unintentionally created a system whereby it's virtually impossible for division rivals to meet in the conference finals. That's the case even if two teams from the same division are clearly their conference's cream of the crop, as appears to be the case this season.
So it may seem a little odd this spring when we hear announcers say things like "Spurs and Mavs meet in a second-round showdown -- winner gets the Clippers!" How much of a letdown would that be? And it hurts the league in multiple respects. First, obviously, there's the little matter of trying to sell a conference finals between San Antonio or Dallas and a team like the Clippers or Nuggets.
Admittedly, this wouldn't be as much of a problem in the East as long as the Heat can get their act together, but you'd like to think Stern and Co. still would prefer LeBron vs. the Pistons to be later rather than sooner.
But there's another angle that isn't getting as much play, and it's this: The teams in the toughest divisions get shafted a second time. Not only do they face a tougher schedule during the season, they also get much tougher matchups than their counterparts from easier divisions.
For instance, right now Dallas and Memphis have the second and third best records in the West. If that holds up, they would be "rewarded" for their effort by getting to meet in the first round of the playoffs -- with the winner taking on San Antonio.
Thus, it was with a touch of sadness that I watched the Spurs outdefend Houston and Dallas outlast the Hawks tonight. Coming into the season I thought these were the two best outfits in the West, and they've done nothing to change my mind thus far.
But we won't get to see them match up in the conference finals, because the league's misguided playoff system won't allow it.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett prepares to pull down one of his 13 rebounds in a 109-98 win over Washigton. Garnett finished one assist short of a triple double.
We're all familiar with the Detroit Pistons by now -- the tough defense, the patient clock management, the defense creating chances for the offense. They're the kind of team that prefers a 78-75 slugfest to a 112-110 shootout and only gets near the century mark by accident.
At least, so far this year it's wrong. In racing out to an unbeaten start, the Pistons' offense has been at least as dangerous as its defense. That's not to say the Pistons are turning into the Suns on us, but it should be noted that Detroit has sprinted to a 7-0 start largely because of a vastly improved attack.
Minnesota entered the game ranked 23rd in scoring, averaging just 93.1 points per game. ... The Wolves have beaten the Wizards six straight times in Minnesota. ... Andray Blatche, the Wizards rookie out of high school, was looking forward to meeting his idol, Garnett, for the first time. "To come see him play in person, man, I can't find the words," said Blatche, who is almost fully recovered from gunshot wounds suffered in a carjacking incident on Sept. 25. Blatche was inactive for the game.
Mavs F Keith Van Horn was back in the rotation after missing Tuesday night's game because of a sprained middle finger on his right hand. ... Hawks point guard Tyronn Lue was replaced by forward Marvin Williams in the Hawks' starting lineup, a move not related to injury. Lue, who came off the bench in the first quarter, had seven points, two rebounds and one assist in 23 minutes on Tuesday night at San Antonio. ... Dallas center Erick Dampier fouled out, going scoreless with eight rebounds and six turnovers.
-- The Associated Press
AP Photo/Bob Owen
Yao Ming had Tim Duncan on his back. Both finished with 19 points, but the Rockets couldn't shake the defending champs Thursday, falling 86-80.
Quote of the Night
-- Andrew Ayres
SportsNation voters have spoken. Most don't think Knicks coach Larry Brown or Lakes coach Phil Jackson will lead his current team to a title.
Which coach will win a championship with his current team?
Which coach do you expect to stay with his current team longer?
The Spurs defeated the Rockets 86-80. It was Houston's 16th consecutive loss at San Antonio.
Three of the NBA's six longest current road-game losing streaks against a particular opponent are at San Antonio: Nuggets at Kings, 18; Bucks at Suns, 17; Cavaliers at Spurs, 16; Rockets at Spurs, 16; Warriors at Spurs, 15; Grizzlies at Nuggets, 15.
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Jay (Washington, DC): Will JJ Redick be a lottery pick next year?
Chad Ford: I don't think so, but you never know . . . it only takes one team to fall in love with him. The scouts I've been consulting all have him on the first round bubble, leaning toward the second round. He's a GREAT shooter, but I'm not sure how well the rest of his game translates in the pros.
He's a little undersized. He will have more difficulty creating his own shot in the pros, and may have difficulty guarding the ultra-quick NBA twos in the league. With that said, someone's going to draft him. Salim Stoudamire and Kyle Korver both had similar question marks and they both became solid second round picks.
When I talked to Allen Iverson before the season began, it was apparent how much fun he was having playing for Maurice Cheeks. The tension he dealt with under Larry Brown, Chris Ford and Jim O'Brien has disappeared. As a result, A.I. is focused only on making his teammates better and leading Philly to a spot in the upper echelon of the East.