These NBA playoffs started with such promise with one of the most competitive and fun-to-watch opening rounds ever witnessed.
Tonight, the playoffs could end with one of the most lopsided NBA Finals in recent memory.
With the exception of Game 2, the San Antonio Spurs have dominated the Miami Heat in their quest to exorcise the demons of their collapse against the Heat in last year’s Finals.
Using 20-20 hindsight vision, this result isn’t too surprising. As is the case in many years, the competition in one NBA conference was just far superior to the other. This year, though, was more extreme than usual.
While Miami faced little resistance from 43-win Charlotte, 44-win Washington and a horribly slumping 56-win Indiana team, San Antonio came into the Finals battle-tested against 49-win Dallas, 54-win Portland and 59-win Oklahoma City.
The whole bizarre incongruity left this observer asking, what if the NBA threw conference affiliation out the window just seed teams No. 1-16?
It will most likely never happen, but, while the exciting first round would be sacrificed, it would almost certainly make for a more balanced and competitive postseason.
Using this year as an example, let’s enter NBA Bizarro World.
1) San Antonio (62-20)
2) Oklahoma City (59-23)
3) L.A. Clippers (57-25)
4) Indiana (56-26)
5) Miami (54-28)
6) Houston (54-28)
7) Portland (54-28)
8) Golden State (51-31)
9) Memphis (50-32)
10) Dallas (49-33)
11) Toronto (48-34)
12) Chicago (48-34)
13) Phoenix (48-34)
14) Washington (44-38)
15) Brooklyn (44-38)
16) Charlotte (43-39)
One immediate observation about this hypothetical system is the fact that eight out of the top 10 teams were from the West. Plus, a Phoenix team that was edged out of the playoffs in the West gets a chance to be a March Madness-style wild card in this fantasy postseason (more on that shortly).
San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles most likely get through to the next round fairly easily, although the Clippers-Wizards No. 3 vs. No. 14 matchup would provide some intriguing matchups (John Wall vs. Chris Paul, Nene vs. Blake Griffin).
Phoenix could have very pulled the upset. As mentioned earlier, Indiana was slumping horribly headed into the playoffs and Phoenix swept the regular season series well before said slump started.
Miami would have received a decent challenge from Chicago, as would have Houston against Toronto, but both would have likely advanced. Portland-Dallas and Golden State-Memphis would have been tight matchups. For the next segment’s purposes, let’s say Portland and Golden State move on.
San Antonio faces Golden State in the second round, and while the Warriors’ explosive guard duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson could pose some challenges for the Spurs and make for a better second-round matchup than this year’s Spurs-Trailblazers series, the more experienced No. 1 seed probably wins here.
In the No. 3-No. 6 matchup, while my heart says the Rockets could keep going, the Clippers are a better version of the Portland team that ripped Houston’s guts out in this year’s actual playoff matchup, and Los Angeles advances to our fantasy Final Four. If it can come close to matching the Rockets vs. Trailblazers first round series, it will be fun to watch, though.
Miami would probably put an end to the Cinderella Suns in this round, but at least the Heat would have been tested against teams with better records than both of their first two opponents this postseason.
Oklahoma City vs. Portland would have been a fun and competitive series with some of the league’s best young stars on display. Eventually, the Thunder move on.
So, in this hypothetical, we get two matchups we already saw.
Oklahoma City and Los Angeles meet, but this time with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.
Expect both teams to play with even more urgency and intensity this time, but there is no reason to expect a different ultimate outcome.
On the other side of the bracket, the Spurs get to take care of business against the Heat a little earlier.
Again, a different result shouldn’t be expected, which is a good thing for the sake the grand finale of our fantasy NBA playoffs.
So we’re left with San Antonio against Oklahoma City for the championship, and looking back on it, did the Western Conference finals not feel more like an NBA Finals-caliber contest than what we’ve seen in the Spurs-Heat series?
Would it be an all-time classic series? Probably not. Would it feature better quality games than what we’ve seen so far? Almost certainly.