Stateside: NBA's best team in for tough ride
Once again the San Antonio Spurs look the best team in the NBA but once again the conference system will most likely conspire to stop them winning the title.
The Spurs have easily the best record in the NBA. This is nothing new and they showed the gulf between them and the rest with their thumpings of the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors last week.
But they are not likely to win the title they so richly deserve because they are unlucky enough to play in the far stronger Western Conference.
The Eastern Conference is a joke. Just two teams in it, Indiana and Miami, are capable of making the playoffs in the west. It is a travesty that the woeful Knicks are still in the running for a playoff spot with a 33-45 record. The team that will miss out on a spot altogether in the west, either the Suns, Memphis or Dallas, would be in third place if they were playing in the east.
This is a fundamental weakness of the conference system. It is easy to jump to conclusions on the basis of one strange season but this is not a one-off occurrence.
The objective of any sporting competition is to have the best two teams playing in the final or final series. Anything that fails to do this is the wrong system.
Basketball is not the only American competition with this flaw as the Super Bowl so aptly demonstrated. The strongest NFL teams were Seattle and San Francisco but because they were in the same conference the best game came two weeks before the Super Bowl.
Really the best way for the NBA to ensure that every regular season game counted and for the best team to be found would be to award the title to the team with the most wins, as happens in the English Premier League. However, that is never going to happen because the seven-game playoff series is such a money-spinner for the league.
Due to the disparities in the strengths of the two conferences, the defending champion Heat get a far easier road to the finals.
The Spurs however, will probably have to play the Grizzlies in the first round, then the Houston Rockets and the Thunder. All good teams. All physical. They will need to ride their three key veterans - Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili - hard to get through each series. The strength of these teams also means each series is more likely to go the distance, so the Spurs could well have played as many as 20 playoff games before the finals, if they make it that far.
In contrast, the Heat will probably face Atlanta and then Chicago before their one tough matchup against the Pacers. They can afford to rest Dwayne Wade through the first couple of series in which they're not likely to drop more than a game or two so they will get to the finals (should they make it that far) in much better shape physically. And with the Pacers struggling of late, they may not even face them and end up in the finals without a single series going the distance.
Against them will be the last team standing from the west. So it's entirely possible that the Heat could win their third successive title having faced just one tough opponent.
That doesn't seem right.