In a year ... or two ... or whenever they get around to doing it ... the NHL is revamping their conference format and going to a 4-conference deal. In it, you will play every other non-conference team twice (home and away) and then the rest of your games in house. The top four teams in each "conference" will make the postseason and will play each other in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
I love it.
I think the NBA should adopt the same thing.
I hate the way the NBA is set up. There are two conference and six divisions, just like the NHL is now and the MLB. But unlike the NHL and MLB, the NBA doesn't have a weighted divisional schedule. The Los Angeles Kings play more games against their Pacific Division rivals than they do against anyone else. The Los Angeles Dodgers play more games against NL West teams than anyone else. The Los Angeles Lakers, however, will see the Minnesota Timberwolves just as much as they'd see the Phoenix Suns in a typical year. Not right.
I've long been saying that the NBA should just eliminate the divisions altogether since they are truly meaningless. I mean, no weighted schedule and the postseason is just the best eight teams in the conference basically ranked by record. So why are there divisions? I've said just have two 15-team conferences and be done with it.
But I'm liking this NHL deal better. The NBA could benefit not only from having a weighted skeddie, but from having that kind of postseason.
Here is what it might look like:
ATLANTIC: Celtics, Heat, Knicks, Magic, Nets, Sixers, Wizards
CENTRAL: Bobcats, Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Hawks, Pacers, Pistons, Raptors
MIDWEST: Grizzlies, Hornets, Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, Wolves
PACIFIC: Blazers, Clippers, Jazz, Kings, Lakers, Nuggets, Suns, Warriors
Anyone who remembers the NBA from a decade ago won't be too shocked. It is pretty much set up the way the NBA was prior to the expansion Bobcats joining. The differences are the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets move to the Pacific Division (the Seattle Sonics were in the Pacific then, but are now the Thunder; the New Orleans Hornets were in the Central Division but, like the Thunder, are both now in the Midwest and bumping the Jazz and Nuggets west). The Jazz had to go to the Pacific Division due to geography and I paired Denver with them to give them another Mountain Time Zone rival.
You play home and away with all the non conference teams. Then, depending on if you played in a 7 or 8 team division, you will play the remaining 36 or 38 games against division foes. So the Lakers would play four of the other Pacific Division teams 5 times and three of them 6 times. A team in a 7-team division would play each division foe 6 times.
It helps with travel. It helps foster those division rivalries. It also helps make the divisions actually mean something.
Just imagine that the current records are final for the current season (I know, I know, they aren't and those records would look so much different with a weighted schedule. Just humor me for a moment). Here is what the postseason would look like:
ATLANTIC: 1-Heat vs 4-Knicks; 2-Celtics vs 3-Magic
CENTRAL: 1-Bulls vs 4-Bucks; 2-Pacers vs 3-Hawks
MIDWEST: 1-Thunder vs 4-Mavericks; 2-Spurs vs 3-Grizzlies
PACIFIC: 1-Lakers vs 4-Suns; 2-Clippers vs 3-Nuggets
The big differences to real life? Well, the Bucks would be in the playoffs instead of Philly and the Suns bump out the Rockets. And, like I said, those division battles would be epic. Maybe they don't seem so now, but as the years go by, those teams would keep meeting each other time and time again in the postseason and build up quite a hatred. That's big since, well, look at how the NBA's rivalries form. The Lakers-Celtics rivalry is due to their faceoffs in all those Finals. Knicks-Heat? Well those come from those postseason battles. So did the Kings-Lakers, Pistons-Celtics and even Bulls-Knicks. Playoff familiarity breeds bad blood which breeds epic postseason battles.