The final rankings
When Dallas and San Antonio met in the second round of last year's playoffs despite having the two best records in the NBA, the league decided to make sure that scenario never happened again. The rules committee changed the playoff seeding format, guaranteeing each division champion only a top-four seed instead of a top-three seed.
It turns out the new rule didn't go far enough.
Once again, the NBA has a problem on its hands, due to a trio of Central Division teams that were the Eastern Conference's elite. Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland were the three best teams in the East this season, but either the Bulls or Cavs will be seeded fifth when the playoffs start Saturday thanks again to the league's "new" ridiculous seeding format.
Toronto and Miami will be seeded third and fourth, respectively, based on their division titles. The result is that the East's playoff brackets are totally unbalanced, with several of the conference's best clubs all on one side.
It's time for the league to do what it should have done in the first place when it expanded to six divisions three years ago: seed every team by record, regardless of division standing. Winning a division should guarantee a playoff spot, but nothing else.
There, I got that off my chest. Here are this season's final rankings before we head to the playoffs (records and statistics are through April 15):
1.Dallas Mavericks (66-14, Last ranking: 1) – The Mavericks solidified their status as the NBA's best team with their 91-86 victory over San Antonio on Sunday. Now the hard part begins: trying to get back to the NBA finals.
2.Phoenix Suns (61-19, Last ranking: 3) – The Suns have won five in a row since a loss to the Spurs last week, and they've secured the No. 2 seed in the West in the process.
3.San Antonio Spurs (58-22, Last ranking: 2) – As well as the Spurs have played in the second half of the season, their early-season struggles may come back to haunt them. The three seed means a first-round matchup with red-hot Denver and no home court against either Phoenix or Dallas in later rounds.
4.Detroit Pistons (51-29, Last ranking: 4) – The Pistons head to the playoffs as the favorites in the East, but a second-round matchup with either Miami or Cleveland looms.
5.Houston Rockets (51-29, Last ranking: 6) – Tracy McGrady is still looking for his first playoff series victory, and he looks ready. He's averaged 31 points during Houston's four-game win streak.
6.Chicago Bulls (49-32, Last ranking: 7) – The Bulls are as stingy as ever when it comes to giving up points. A rout of Washington on Sunday was fueled by a smothering defense that held the Wizards to 34-percent shooting.
7.Cleveland Cavaliers (48-32, Last ranking: 8) – The Cavs are still hoping the Bulls slip and fall to New Jersey Wednesday. If not, they're looking at the fifth seed and a meeting with the Heat in the first found.
8.Toronto Raptors (47-33, Last ranking: 9) – The Raptors are hoping to get Andrea Bargnani back for the playoffs.
9.Miami Heat (44-36, Last ranking: 11) – Dwyane Wade's numbers since his return? Four games, 16 points per game, 24-for-54 shooting.
10.Denver Nuggets (43-37, Last ranking: 10) – The Nuggets' eight-game winning streak was snapped in Memphis, but not before Denver secured the sixth seed and a date with the Spurs in the first round.
11.Utah Jazz (49-31, Last ranking: 5) – The Jazz will limp into their first-round series with Houston, having lost seven of their last nine games.
12.Golden State Warriors (40-40, Last ranking: 14) – The Warriors' late-season playoff push has been fueled by a reenergized Jason Richardson, who is part of an ultra small lineup that is giving opponents fits.
13.Los Angeles Clippers (39-41, Last ranking: 12) – A costly loss to Sacramento on Sunday – at home, no less – has left the Clips in a position where they need help to make the playoffs.
14.Los Angeles Lakers (41-40, Last ranking: 13) – What happened to that once-promising season? The Lakers need to beat Sacramento on Tuesday just to finish above .500.
15.New Jersey Nets (39-41, Last ranking: 16) – Blowouts at the hands of Chicago and Cleveland don't bode well for the Nets' playoff chances: They're likely to play one of them in the first round.
16.Washington Wizards (40-40, Last ranking: 17) – With no Gilbert Arenas or Caron Butler, the Wizards are the team everyone in the East wants to play in the first round. It looks like Toronto will have the honor.
17.Orlando Magic (38-42, Last ranking: 15) – The Magic are in the playoffs, but don't expect to see them hang around long.
18.New Orleans Hornets (37-43, Last ranking: 18) – Give the Hornets credit. They hung around the playoff chase for a long time despite numerous injuries.
19.Indiana Pacers (35-45, Last ranking: 19) – After losing 21 of their last 27 games, the Pacers will miss the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
20.Philadelphia 76ers (34-46, Last ranking: 20) – Who could have predicted the Sixers would win 29 of 57 games since trading Allen Iverson? The only problem is that their draft position, barring a lottery miracle, got considerably lower.
21.Sacramento Kings (33-47, Last ranking: 26) – The Kings may be in for a rebuilding job after missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
22.Charlotte Bobcats (33-48, Last ranking: 23) – The Bobcats won seven of their last 10 games and have some hope for next season. Plenty of cap room, a lottery pick … things are looking up.
23.Portland Trail Blazers (32-48, Last ranking: 24) – Jarrett Jack scored 25 points and handed out five assists in a win over Seattle. He's trying to prove he's the Blazers' point guard of the future.
24.New York Knicks (32-48, Last ranking: 22) – As the Knicks continue to tumble down the standings, the Bulls' draft choice gets higher and higher.
25.Minnesota Timberwolves (32-48, Last ranking: 21) – The Wolves shelved Kevin Garnett and made sure they hung onto their first-round draft pick, which would have gone to the Clippers if it hadn't been in the top 10.
26.Seattle SuperSonics (31-50, Last ranking: 25) – Is this the last time we'll call the Sonics the Seattle Sonics? Let's hope not.
27.Atlanta Hawks (29-51, Last ranking: 27) – Is there anyone left on the roster to play the final week?
28.Milwaukee Bucks (27-53, Last ranking: 28) – The Bucks-Hawks matchup on Monday figures to be a barnburner. Don't miss it.
29.Boston Celtics (23-57, Last ranking: 29) – The Celtics are hoping that either Kevin Durant or Greg Oden "comes walking through that door" in June.
30.Memphis Grizzlies (20-60, Last ranking: 30) – Come on, pingpong balls!