Record, not division title, is key factor for playoffs

Published: Saturday, March 10 2007 12:19 a.m. MST

The topic at hand: NBA playoffs, and just how first-round matchups are determined after the league tinkered with the format for this season.

Jazz coaches and broadcasters debating over dinner recently weren't quite sure of the details. Neither were a few Jazz players who were discussing the subject recently, so they went to the most-trusted source they knew.

"If you win your division you can (be seeded) no worse than fourth, I believe. But if you play someone with a better record, you won't get the homecourt advantage, is what I understand," veteran forward Jarron Collins said. "It actually came up the other day in the locker room ... and that was the understanding I was given, I think, from Adam Klauke — the ballboy, the source of information of the team."

Kudos to Klauke, the son of local broadcaster of Steve Klauke.

He's one of the few who clearly understands the league's new postseason rules, designed to eliminate the possibility of a conference's top two teams by regular-season record (both from the same division) meeting prior to the conference finals — as happened with Dallas and San Antonio a season ago.

Here's how it's set up now, revised by the league as of last August — and after the Mavericks and Spurs faced off in the Western Conference semifinals:

Division winners (three from each of the league's two conferences) and the top non-division winner in each conference are guaranteed a top-four seed, with order based solely on record. The remaining four playoff teams in each conference are then seeded by record as well.

One caveat: After seeds are assigned, homecourt advantage in each individual series goes to the team with the better overall record.

The upshot: Beyond raising a banner, redoing team stationary and perhaps some pocket change, winning the division means precious little.

Finishing the regular season with the best possible record, however, is what it's really all about.

That's what the Jazz — current owners of the NBA's fourth-best record at 42-19, and well on track to finish ahead of Denver in the league's Northwest Division — are figuring heading into tonight's game against New Orleans/Oklahoma City, which is fighting the back of the Western Conference pack for a postseason berth of its own.

That, and dealing with these realities:

As of now, Utah seems likely to either catch San Antonio and secure the West's third seed ... or, win the division but finish with a worse record than the Spurs and therefore wind up with the fourth seed.

With two teams in particular currently fighting for the conference's fifth and sixth spots, that, by extension, means this:

"It's pretty set we're either going to play Houston or the (Los Angeles) Lakers," Collins said.

"Having said that," he added, "we've got to concern ourselves with how we are playing going into the playoffs."

With the Jazz having won five straight and 13 of their last 15, that concern is not so much a worry as it cause to simply continue doing what they've been doing.

It's as simple as that, and as simple as this:

"We need to focus," Collins said, "on playing good basketball."

Or, as coach Jerry Sloan suggests, focusing less about what is still 21 games and more than a month away — and more on the task at hand.

"It doesn't make any difference who we play," said Sloan, whose Jazz beat the Hornets just last Monday night in Oklahoma City.

"Hopefully everybody's ready to go every time we step on the floor," he added, "because it's not a matter of 'you're just trying to finish the season.' You're trying to move up to another level, and be as good as you can be."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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