NBA changes dumb playoff seeding rule, but does it really matter?

Yesterday, the NBA revealed that division winners will no longer be given preference when it comes to playoff seeding:

There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about this (more on that in a bit), but it's a good change considering the old rule made no sense whatsoever:

Each conference has three divisions, so there is some logic to giving the top three playoff seeds to each of the three division winners.  But, that wasn't the case.  Division champions were only guaranteed a top-four seed.  Why top four?  It could be explained by the fact that teams 1-4 got home court advantage in Round 1, except that wasn't true either--winning a division only ensured no worse than the fourth seed, not home court advantage.

Case in point, the 2011-12 Celtics:

Boston won the Atlantic Division, earned the No. 4 seed and faced the fifth-seeded Hawks who finished one game better.  Because of that, Atlanta had home court advantage in the series.  If this happened under the new rule that throws out division titles altogether, nothing would actually change.  The Hawks would be listed as No. 4 and the Celtics No. 5, but the matchup and location stay the same.

The impetus for yesterday's announcement comes from what took place out west last season:

Portland won the Northwest Division and was awarded the No. 4 seed, despite having the conference's sixth-best record.  Many people were up in arms when the 55-win Spurs dropped to No. 6 and were forced to play the 56-win Clippers in the first round (although that did give us one of the greatest opening-round playoff series in NBA history).

If you calculate last year's standings under the new system, in reality not much changes.  San Antonio is still only the No. 5 seed, on the road against the 55-win Grizzlies (who won the head-to-head tiebreaker).  The winner then gets the 67-win Warriors in Round 2 (instead of the 56-win Rockets), so a case can be made that the Spurs would actually be worse off.

While the new seeding method is a lot more logical than the previous one, the practical ramifications of it are pretty minimal.  One part of the rule change that isn't being talked about much appears in the third paragraph of the league's official statement:

When the Clippers and Rockets met in the second round last spring, Houston was awarded home court advantage because its division title was used as the tiebreaker between the 56-win clubs.  Going forward, their head-to-head record will come into play first.  However, since Houston and L.A. split the regular season series 2-2, the Rockets' Southwest Division title would still end up being the deciding factor.

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