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Doc: Division winners deserve banner, not top-4 seed

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Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

SAN ANTONIO -- The series between the Los Angeles Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs is shaping up to be the longest of the first round. But the lasting effects of the series may also extend beyond this postseason and push the league to tweak its rules in the offseason.

As exciting as the series has been, tied at 2-2, both teams came into it slightly miffed that they had to face each other in a 3-6 first-round matchup despite vying for the second seed in the West on the final night of the season.

Because NBA rules state that division winners must be a top-four seed and hold the first tiebreaker regardless of head-to-head or conference records, the Portland Trail Blazers were given the four-seed and a first-round matchup with the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies despite finishing with the sixth-best record in the conference. The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, won a tiebreaker with the Clippers for the two-seed despite the Clippers finishing with a better conference record.

So instead of playing Portland or Dallas in the first round, the Clippers’ reward for finishing with the second-best record in the West and winning 14 of 15 to finish the season was a first-round matchup with the defending champions.

“I don’t know if this has ever happened,” Rivers said Sunday. “It probably should be talked about and I think it will be talked about and fixed. I’m not a big fan of the division stuff. I do believe in divisions. I know some people don’t. I do, I just don’t believe that just because you win one you should get a prize. You get a banner. What more do you want? Other than that I don’t think you should get anything else.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said that league owners would consider a “range of options” to tweaking the playoff format and Rivers hopes those tweaks will include how division winners are rewarded.

Rivers contends that division winners currently don’t receive home-court advantage despite being a higher seed, so what’s the point in giving them a higher seed in the first place? He also doesn’t understand how one team could sweep another team during the regular season and lose on a tiebreaker that they have no control over such as one team winning a weaker division.

“That's a flaw," Rivers said at the end of the season. “I think the divisions are important. They're nice to have. They're nice to be celebrated, for some and some not, but I don't know if they should be celebrated as far as in the standings. I think it's something that the league will absolutely look at and try to fix.”

Silver has said the league will also have "full-throated conversations" this summer about potentially implementing rules to eliminate the Hack-a-Shaq strategy from the game, which has morphed into Hack-a-DeAndre, with teams intentionally fouling Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.

Jordan was sent to the line 29 times through the first two games, making just 11 of his attempts. Jordan made just 39.7 percent of his free throws this season and has made just 37.9 percent this postseason. He was sent to the line 54 times over a two-game stretch earlier this season when the Clippers played the Spurs and Rockets.

"I think we’re clearly going to look at it,” Rivers said. “Even though I have D.J., I still go back and forth on it. I was put on the committee to look at what’s good for the league, not our team, and it’s still a tough one for me even though it’s obvious for everyone. Every ref, every game it starts, he looks over at me and says, ‘You guys have to stop this.’ It’s a tough one for me.

"I go back and forth on it because I look at the other side as if you make it, they won’t do it. That’s too simple, I think, and I think fans watching it, I don’t think it’s that enjoyable to watch and we’re all waiting for the game where a team has one on each team and the coaches go back and forth and do it. The game is going to last forever, No. 1, and it would be ugly to watch.”