Chances are, your Houston Rockets aren't going to make the playoffs this season. Barring a miracle collapse from Memphis and a near-perfect Rockets record to the end, the good guys will be the ninth seed in the West, one short of qualifying them for playoff contention. In the midst of attempting to cope with this realization, it's not difficult to look East, where three teams with records worse than Houston's will receive an invitation to be slaughtered by the best that its conference has to offer.
And while the Rockets may have suffered a similar fate at the hands of the superior Spurs or Lakers, it would have been fun to see postseason play return to Houston, especially during a year in which A) High expectations yielded to a rock-bottom feeling after a Yao-less roster stumbled to a sub-par start, and B) The Rockets have managed to get their s**t together, make a few sneaky trades and play their best basketball as the playoffs approach. Who knows, perhaps there could have been a repeat of the Los Angeles series from a few years back? While the Rockets didn't emerge victorious, they forced the Lakers to seven games and provided a HUGE morale boost to the fanbase and to the organization as a whole.
In short, it's one-hundred percent worth the slightly lower draft pick to play an extra week or two of basketball. Which is why I'm pissed that Houston plays in the Western Conference.
Tom Ziller has a solution, for us daydreamers who'd love a Red first round:
In seven of the past eight seasons, the No. 9 team in the West had a better record than the No. 8 team in the East. That means that the NBA didn't take the top 16 teams to the playoffs -- it took the top 12-15, plus a bad team or four while better squads got early start on their beach reading. In the one year where the first team out for the West wasn't better than the last team in for the East, the teams' records were tied.
It's systemic. The East has had the bigger influx of impact players since 2003; LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose are among the East superstars that have entered the league since this great imbalance began. And the issue isn't ending.
The Houston Rockets are this season's victim. The Rockets currently sit at 39-35, four games ahead of .500 but 2.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the West. The East playoff picture would, as of Wednesday, admit three teams with records worse than that of Houston to the postseason: the 76ers (38-36), Knicks (36-38) and Pacers (33-42).
Ziller proceeds to create a playoff bracket that features the Rockets as a 14th seed in a conferenceless playoff approach. I wouldn't be one to complain should this take form in reality.
There are faults with this line of thinking, in that it diminishes in-conference rivalries, relies upon Eastern Conference owners agreeing to such a proposal and brings about the question of, "What's the point, especially if it's going to end up as Lakers/Celtics regardless?" And those are all valid points, but in the end, the best teams should compete for a championship. Separate conference playoffs have only served to harness good teams that deserve playoff contention, so why not make a change to solve an obvious problem?