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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 12/28

Basketball Insiders looks at some of the articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Playoff Sleepers In The Western Conference

By Susan Bible

As expected, the playoff race in the NBA’s Western Conference is extremely tight yet again with the rankings changing nightly.

The Golden State Warriors were strong out of the gate, and their present 22-3 record puts them atop the conference. The Memphis Grizzlies (21-5) and Portland Trail Blazers (22-6) claiming the number two and three spots, respectively, follow dangerously close behind. The fourth-place Houston Rockets (19-7) and fifth-place Dallas Mavericks (20-8) aim to take over those higher spots with recent acquisitions. In a move the Mavs hope puts them in title contention this year, they traded for point guard Rajon Rondo, who leads the league in assists at 10.7 per game. In addition, reports indicate the Mavs are frontrunners to acquire Jermaine O’Neal. The Mavs topped the San Antonio Spurs 99-93 in Rondo’s first outing with Dallas. He logged six points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of play. The Rockets added wing Corey Brewer for some much-needed perimeter defense off the bench and also landed combo guard Alexey Shved.

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Everyone Wins In Rondo Trade

By Moke Hamilton

Rick Carlisle donned his navy blue Mavericks hooded sweatshirt. He both looked and sounded quite casual sitting next to Mark Cuban, whose demeanor was somewhere between proud and giddy.

“Obvioulsy, having him here is a huge step forward for us,” Cuban said about what it meant for his franchise to land Rajon Rondo. “He’s a winner and he’s a competitor.”

Rondo is a few other things too: another superstar in Dallas and a beaming light that illuminates championship hopes.

And now, he is, best of all, a Maverick.

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76ers Win And Want To Win More

By Steve Kyler

The Philadelphia 76ers did the unexpected last night, coming into Orlando and handing the Magic a body blow of a defeat on their home floor. The win wasn’t the result of a stellar performance or some amazing hot streak from the field. It was a grind-it-out win that ended up in Philly’s favor.

Winning hasn’t happened much for the 76ers; in fact, last night marked their third win in 26 games.

The national narrative on the 76ers is that they are tanking and that the team doesn’t want to win. Ten minutes in the 76ers’ locker room will tell you that’s simply not how the players view what is going on. They want to win and want to win badly.

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Four NBA Trades That Should Happen

By Joel Brigham

Any media member who works NBA games knows that of all the trade rumors that cross the wire in a given year, maybe five percent actually get consummated. Despite that fact, there are few things more fun for basketball fans than dreaming up ideal ways to improve their favorite teams, and in-season trades absolutely are the best options for organizations in need of an immediate shot in the arm.

The following are four hypothetical swaps that make more than enough sense to happen, but just because they should, however, doesn’t mean they will. Still, it’s fun to dream, and these blockbusters would definitely change the fate of all eight teams involved:

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Where Will Josh Smith Land?

By Lang Greene

Citing the need for an adjustment, the Detroit Pistons used the stretch provision on Josh Smith early Monday. Smith signed a four-year, $54 million deal with Detroit in free agency back in 2013, but the forward never made the impact the franchise desired and some would argue that he negatively impacted the Pistons’ young frontcourt of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

But even though Smith’s tenure in Detroit proved to be disappointing, the 29-year-old forward still posted 15.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 105 games with the team. Those stats are hard to ignore, especially for teams around the league looking for frontcourt production.

Smith was owed $27 million the next two seasons. His remaining salary for this year will be paid as scheduled, and the remainder will be spread out in $5.4 million annual payments over the next five years. So, the prospect of signing a high dollar deal likely won’t be at the top of Smith’s priority list.

Smith is talented and can help teams, but where would be a good fit? Here are some options around the league:

 

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The Pistons’ Motivation to Cut Smith

By Yannis Koutroupis

One of the worst kept secrets in the league was that the Detroit Pistons were unhappy with Josh Smith and eager to trade him. Smith, signed by former general manager Joe Dumars to a four-year contract worth $54 million in 2013, went from being known as an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year snub to overpaid and inefficient seemingly instantly after putting his name on the dotted line that summer. Because of that, though, the trade market was extremely bare for him. Only the Sacramento Kings showed any real interest, and they were only offering veterans with multiple years left on their deals in return.

So, in one of the more shocking moves of the season so far, the Pistons exercised their right to stretch Smith’s contract and waive him from the roster. He’s going to be paid the rest of the $13.5 million he was owed this year as scheduled, and then the remaining $27 million will be paid to him in annual payments of $5.4 million over the next five years. After clearing waivers in 48 hours, a mere formality, Smith will be an unrestricted free agent – free to sign with any team of his choosing. The Los Angeles Clippers, Miami HEAT, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and aforementioned Kings have all expressed interest in him, with the Rockets reportedly the most serious suitor. Smith’s childhood friends Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo will serve as lead recruiters for their respective teams. For a more detailed look at Smith’s next destination, make sure to check out Lang Green’s breakdown.

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Irving On Family, Loss and Keeping Life in Perspective

By Jessica Cameratio

Walk a mile in his shoes to understand Kyrie Irving. On second thought, just take a few steps in them to get the picture.

When Nike debuted Irving’s first signature shoe, the Kyrie 1, this month, it revealed small glimpses into his personal world — the acronym for his motto “Just Be You,” a pattern inspired by his native country of Australia and, most telling, his late mother’s name with her dates of birth and death scrolled on the sole.

Irving is known for his job of leading the Cleveland Cavaliers on the court. The point guard has another team he also plays for in those sneakers.

Kyrie’s mother, Elizabeth, passed away from organ failure when he was four years old. His father, Drederick, was suddenly a single parent of two. Kyrie’s sister, Asia, is 14 months his senior.

 

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Knight’s Big Season Comes at Perfect Time

By John Zitzler

The Milwaukee Bucks’ surprising start can be attributed to a number of different factors. You could point to Jason Kidd, who has done a terrific job in his first year as the team’s head coach. Jabari Parker, who prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury looked like a favorite to win Rookie of the Year, deserves credit as well. The healthy return of Larry Sanders and the massive impact he has made on the defensive end has been big, as well as the continued growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has made tremendous strides in his sophomore season.  They all have played a significant role and have the Bucks unexpectedly thinking about the playoffs. However, with that said, you could also argue that no player has been more important to Milwaukee than point guard Brandon Knight.

Knight has been the engine that has driven the Bucks early on this season. He is the only player who has started in every one of the team’s 28 games. He is averaging 17.5 points, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game, leading the team in all three categories. Knight has the team’s highest PER at 18 and the highest win shares on the team at 2.1.

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K.J. McDaniels’ Hard Work is Paying Off

By Alex Kennedy

K.J. McDaniels had just spent several hours working out and doing drills in a gym full of NBA executives and coaches at the 2014 NBA Draft Combine, but he didn’t feel satisfied with the work he had put in. He wanted to go through the drills again and put up some shots. So while other draft prospects were exploring downtown Chicago with friends or lounging at the NBA hotel, McDaniels purchased a basketball from a nearby sporting goods store and asked his trainer, Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball, to meet him at a local gym late that night.

That evening, McDaniels spent two hours going through an NBA-level workout and shooting from the areas where he felt he struggled during the combine drills. He went through his workout on one end of the floor, while a pair of high school kids were shooting on the other (oblivious that they were sharing the court with an NBA prospect). The forward from Clemson worked out until the gym’s employees told him that they were closing. McDaniels seemed disappointed to leave, but he finished up his final drill, grabbed his ball, wiped off his sweat-covered face and trekked back to the hotel. He was finally ready to call it a day.

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Draymond Green Making Strong Case for Most Improved

By Cody Taylor

Oftentimes the key for winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award is an increase in playing time, a trade or an injury to the player ahead of them on the depth chart. Countless hours in the gym over the offseason is the one common necessity among winners. The short list for this season’s most improved candidates includes  Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Evan Fournier, Klay Thompson and Iman Shumpert to name a few, but one candidate that is beginning to cement his place in the discussion is Thompson’s teammate, Draymond Green.

The Warriors finished last season by going 51-31 and earning a first-round playoff matchup with the Clippers. The Warriors would go on to lose that series in seven games, signaling the end of the Mark Jackson era in Oakland. The Warriors wasted no time in firing Jackson, opting to let him go just days after the team was eliminated by the Clippers. Shortly after Jackson was let go, the Warriors brought in Steve Kerr to take over the team. The Warriors recognized that little change was needed and opted to keep much of the team’s core players as they brought in only Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Brandon Rush over the summer to fill out the roster.

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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Wiggins On Top After Parker Injury

By Jesse Blancarte

Before this season started, many NBA analysts and fans believed this year’s class of rookies was one of the most talented in the last decade. Unfortunately, many of the most heralded rookies have been sidelined for extended periods of the season, while others have suffered season-ending injuries.The most recent rookie to suffer a significant injury is Jabari Parker, who tore his ACL on December 15 in a game against the Phoenix Suns.

Parker has been at the top of these rankings all season, and was showing gradual improvement in his game until the injury. Parker is the second top rookie to suffer a season-ending injury. Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a broken leg in his NBA debut against the Houston Rockets back in October.

With Parker out for the season, Andrew Wiggins takes over the top spot by default. There are no clear challengers to Wiggins at this point, but there are some new faces in this week’s ranking, including Wiggins’ teammate Zach LaVine.

Now let’s take a look at who else made the top 10 this week:

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Josh Selby Nearly Retired, Now Attempting NBA Comeback

By David Pick

Josh Selby was sitting in the upper deck of a small high-school gym with one-side seating when he challenged a bench-warming teammate to hit a three-pointer from the bleachers. The stakes weren’t high, in the neighborhood of $130 per shot, make-or-miss.

The kid missed. Twice. Selby was up $300, but he never had any intension of collecting the cash. It was his way of making sure his team doesn’t fold under pressure.

It wasn’t long ago that Selby, once the No. 1 NCAA recruit in the nation and former NBA draft pick, hit rock bottom.

Selby, once the highest ranked high-school baller in the United States, led a class that featured some of the NBA’s current-and-future stars. In a sense, he went from hero-to-zero. Selby bounced around the NBA and the respected D-League before heading overseas for stints in China, Croatia and now Israel. At one point, the 23-year-old Baltimore native began to mull over retirement.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap

Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.

Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.

NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.

Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.

The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.

DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.

LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform, he clearly has his eyes open. On Silver’s watch, the league also eliminated the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, and it’s become clear that he simply gets it. Silver isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in order to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

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