Ten teams in the Eastern Conference have losing records. Three of them will still wind up in the playoffs.
Obviously, most of them don't belong in the postseason. And they wouldn't be if the format was altered so the field was truly reserved for the top 16 teams.
If that was the case this season, as many as 11 teams from the loaded Western Conference could get in.
``That'd be great if you're out West,'' Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. ``I think the East would be a little (mad) about that, but it'd be great if you were out West.''
Duncan called it an ``arguable point,'' but he and other players who talked about it over All-Star weekend doubted it would ever happen. Neither did Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of operations.
Washington's Caron Butler didn't like the idea, and not just because his Wizards would be in danger of staying home in the changed format. Washington, sixth in the East, would be tied for the final spot with Sacramento, which is 11th out West.
``It'd ruin tradition,'' Butler said. ``I feel like tradition is strong in this league, that's why I was a strong supporter of keeping the ball the same and everything, because tradition is everything.
``But if we did, that'd mean teams would have to win more games, because the West is like 50 wins probably won't get you in the playoffs.''
Jackson said he thought the league would always want to preserve the idea of a conference championship, but as Boston's Ray Allen pointed out, travel would likely be the biggest obstacle. His top-seeded Celtics would have to go across the country to Sacramento if the Kings earned the final spot, and No. 2 seed Detroit would have to visit Portland.
Toronto, as a No. 13 seed, would end up in Los Angeles or Phoenix, which are tied for fourth. Still, a change could be appealing for a team such as Denver, which is no sure thing to make the playoffs in the West but would be safely in under the 16-team format.
``It could be a better system, but the Western Conference is real, real tough right now,'' the Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony said. ``It's like nine teams are fighting for one spot. That's how it feels in the Western Conference right now. In the East, it's a little bit more leeway over there.''
PLAYOFF PLANS: Dallas, Detroit and San Antonio all have made the playoffs six years running and seem certain to go back this season.
Only one other team has a similar streak, and the New Jersey Nets are intent on keeping up their end of the bargain. The Jason Kidd trade didn't change that.
``It's very, very important for our group to be in the playoffs,'' Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. ``We talk about it, a source of pride is one of four teams to play in the postseason six consecutive years and we do not want to let that down. So we have to do it by any way.''
That won't be easy without Kidd, the person most responsible for the playoff streak. Before he arrived in 2001, the Nets hadn't been in the postseason since 1998. But he also was making it difficult for them this season, with it obvious for at least two months that he wanted out.
``Publicly we had our captain wanted to be traded, that probably is more of a cloud than anything,'' Frank said the day after Kidd was introduced in Dallas. ``There's closure to that, and so we just have to move forward. We've been in a holding pattern so long as a team.''
Making matters worse, the Nets won't have Devin Harris, the key player in the trade on their end, for possibly two weeks because of a sprained ankle. But their first game after the trade showed they plan to keep fighting.
Vince Carter, who some thought the Nets would also deal, scored 33 points in his best game of a disappointing season. Marcus Williams had a season-best 25 points and looked capable of running the team until Harris is ready, and the Nets made a number of hustle plays down the stretch to pull out a 110-102 overtime victory over Chicago.
``This is the only way we're going to win basketball games, by sticking together, playing hard, being tough minded,'' Carter said. ``We're going to have our ups and downs and make mistakes, but we have to see it through.''
NO PLACE LIKE HOME?: Detroit has the second-best record in the NBA, and it may not be good enough for home-court advantage in the playoffs. San Antonio might not open any round at home.
And neither team seems that concerned.
``Do I want to get home court? I just want to be playing my best ball - personally, as a team,'' Pistons All-Star Chauncey Billups said. ``I don't care where we play at, I feel like we could be good and we have a chance.''
The Pistons could still catch Boston for the best record in the league, but probably don't care either way. Detroit was the No. 1 seed in the East the last two years and lost in the conference finals. They didn't even win the Central Division when they won the NBA title in 2004.
``Home court is something that - it's so crazy to say this - but it's something we've had the last few years and not been good with it,'' Billups said. ``But our team is a team that really relies on challenges. We've seen so much together that when we're supposed to win these two quick games and it's over, those are the games we have the most difficult time in.
``I think we're a better road team because you have 20,000 rooting against you and that's what we hang our hat on, upsetting 20,000 people.''
San Antonio's position is more uncertain in the tougher West. The defending champions could end up as the top seed, or they could fall to the lower half of the playoff picture and not even have home-court advantage in the first round.
But the Spurs have seen that playing at home offers no guarantees. Just two years ago, they had the best record in the West but lost Game 7 against Dallas in the second round in their own building.
``If one is given the choice, one would say, 'I'll take the first seed,''' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ``If you don't feel like that, you'd have to be an idiot. Nobody would turn that down.
``But we've won championships when we've had the best record, and we have not won championships when we've had the best record. So we know that it's a fact that it's not the most important thing. It's more important to be mentally and physically ready to go come playoff time and be playing the best basketball regardless of your seed.''

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