Either the Denver Nuggets or Golden State Warriors will miss the NBA playoffs despite winning 49 or 50 games this season.

The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, will likely make the playoffs with fewer than 40 wins and a losing record.

It's not fair — just ask Warriors coach Don Nelson and Nuggets coach George Karl. Both have been suggesting in recent days that picking eight playoff teams from the Western Conference and eight more from the East is an archaic way of doing things. They argue that the league should simply take the top 16 teams, regardless of conference affiliation, and seed the playoffs, 1 through 16.

If such a system were in place this year, the Eastern Conference's Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons would be in line for the top two seeds, but then the West would take over. Nine of the next 10 spots would go to teams from the West, with only Orlando breaking the dominance. Denver and Golden State would be the 11th and 12th seeds in the playoffs instead of having one of them done for the season by Wednesday.

It makes some sense.

It would definitely be more fair.

But it's the wrong thing to do.

Thanks to the West being so much better at the top than the East, it's a suggestion that NBA commissioner David Stern has heard many times. Frankly, he's tired of being questioned about it.

"Have you ever asked (baseball commissioner) Bud Selig that question about the American and the National Leagues (changing their playoff formats)?" Stern replied when asked about the the NBA's playoff system during a visit to EnergySolutions Arena in March. "My guess is that no one has (asked Selig), so I feel like I'm getting picked on."

He has a point. The American League has been dominant in All-Star Games and interleague play in recent years. Yet there would be a huge outcry if baseball changed the way the playoffs are set up so that, say, two A.L. teams could meet in the World Series. We all know that the World Series is supposed to be between the American League champs and the National League champs. It's tradition.

The same is true of the NFL. The Super Bowl pits the AFC champs against the NFC champs.

And the NBA finals should continue to have the Eastern Conference's best play the Western Conference champ.

It's tradition and the way it should be.

"I understand the question," Stern continued last March. "But the answer is that we have an unbalanced schedule. Our teams in the West and the teams in the East each play the teams in the other conference only once home and once away.

"Our view is that if we wanted to do something different (with the playoffs), you'd have to go to a balanced schedule and everybody would have to play everyone the same number of times and then you'd take the top 16. But that is not very appetizing to me. Then you lose the kinds of rivalries, some would say bitter rivalries, that grow up," he said.

Besides, conference dominance can, and will, change over time. There will be occasion in the not-too-distant future when a Western Conference team will get into the playoffs with a worse record than nonplayoff teams in the East.

It won't be fair then, either.

But it will be right.

For now, Nellie and Karl should quit their whinning. They knew the rules before the season started and knew their teams had to finish in the top eight in the conference to get into the playoffs.

E-mail: lojo@desnews.com