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Lopsided NBA can leave best behind

On Sports

David Stern is the greatest commissioner of our era, a man who has made a truckload of money for a lot of NBA players and owners - which is what he's hired to do - while not being afraid to stand up to those people when it's in the best interest of the game.

It's not an easy job.

A Stern interview usually is a pleasure - he's funny and has heard all the questions so many times he always has a ready response. But I was surprised Tuesday when he said the league might change its ridiculous playoff situation.

The problem is that the West for several seasons has had more talented teams than the East. And while eight teams in each conference make the playoffs, the East has only five clubs - Boston, Detroit, Orlando, Cleveland and Toronto - above .500. As it stands, the eighth-place team in the East, New Jersey, is a miserable 26-35. In the West, Denver is 36-24 and in ninth place.

'We will be considering something,' Stern says. 'But it's a very hard subject. My narrow-minded view is, if you have an unbalanced schedule, then you don't take teams out of the West and put them in the East unless you decided to go to a balanced schedule where everyone plays everyone the same amount of times. Then you can take the top 16 and do it.'

What he's talking about is that teams play more conference than nonconference games. The problem is the West teams are compiling better records against a tougher schedule than the East.

The Blazers would have a playoff berth almost wrapped up if the league took the best 16 records into the playoffs. And if Portland were playing an Eastern Conference schedule, it probably would be closing in on 50 wins in the next couple of weeks.

The schedule isn't balanced even within a conference anyway. Teams in the Southwest Division - the toughest in the league - have a harder time than Northwest Division patsies Minnesota and Seattle.

This situation is not unique to the NBA. All major sports play unbalanced schedules but use the results for playoff positioning. The NBA uses best overall record to determine home court in the finals, in spite of those unbalanced schedules.

Also, leaving deserving teams like Denver and Portland out of the playoffs throws them into the lottery. How will the East get better if the Nuggets or Blazers come up with a top-three pick?

'That's just the way our teams do it,' Stern says of the lottery implications. 'Pat Williams (in Orlando) had Shaq and Anfernee Hardaway back to back. Apparently it didn't make any lasting impact.'

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