The NBA is finally changing a rule that has long frustrated fans: rather than guaranteeing division winners a top-4 seed in the playoffs, regardless of record, the conference seeding will now be based solely on record.
By all accounts, this change is a smart one. We saw this last year in the Western Conference: the Blazers had locked up the 4 seed because they finished first in the Northwestern Division with 51 wins. The Spurs and Grizzlies both finished with 55 wins, but because they finished behind the Rockets, they were stuck with the 5th and 6th seeds, respectively. As a result, the Spurs and Clippers played each other in the first round when – if the NBA had seeded exclusively based on record – the Spurs would have played the Grizzlies.
The rule will go into effect immediately. The next step will be to eliminate conferences altogether and simply have the 16 teams with the best records make the playoffs, but this seems less likely to happen anytime soon.