I think we have now seen enough Western Conference basketball (The March to .500) to conclude that the playoff format must be changed on an emergency basis to one of the following:
1. The play-in tournament must be expanded to teams four through 12, and only the Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Kings are exempted from any extraneous burdens.
2. The Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Kings make it, with the fourth-place team being a collection of players from teams four through 12—Stephen Curry, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Anthony Edwards, Jrue Holliday, Luka Doncic, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Lauri Markkanen, and Mikal Bridges, for example (Devin Booker's missed too much time, sorry). They get no practices together, are coached by Kendrick Perkins, and have to play all their first-round games at Denver. The only advantages they will have are Perkins and their own wits, and they will be called the Seattle Vegas Expansion Prototypes, since they'll mostly be in their early to mid-30s by the time those new teams actually play.
3. The Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Kings make it, with the fourth team being LeBron Agonistes playing by himself. After all, the NBA's greatest commitment this year is to wringing all the juice out of James, whether or not he brings the Lakers with him.
4. The Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Kings make the playoffs in a three-way tournament a la 1948, and everybody else stops torturing us after game 82. Only the Spurs and Rockets get to be in the lottery along with the dreggiest dregs of the East because they have successfully maintained their diligence re: the plan (losing four of every five games).
We suggest this because the West is no more ordered or appealing today than it was at Christmas, and a team that can be fifth one day, 10th the next, and then sixth the day after that is not exactly riveting entertainment. If you take out the Nuggets, Grizzlies, Kings, Lakers, Spurs and Rockets, the middle nine have gone 67-78 since the start of the new year, which is the rough equivalent of the Indiana Pacers, and who's keen to see that multiplied by nine, or even, truth be told, by one?
The NBA under Adam Silver has been trying to create a framework that looks more and more like European soccer, only without the only valuable innovation of relegation. By that standard, the Western Conference is the Carabao Cup, a mechanism that is largely a nuisance except for the TV networks and an assurance that the young player you pay 80 million euros today will be wrecked and useless by 26 after playing the equivalent of half a baseball season every year.
But that's the new deal, and everyone seems fine with it, more or less. But unless we can be assured Kings-Warriors in the first round just to see if the non-rivalry of the past 40 years can suddenly become one, anyone in the bloated middle of this deity-forsaken amalgam of mediocre deserves nothing, and in a just world would get it.
And the Spurs and Rockets? Maybe we can cut Victor Wembanyama in half and they can fight over who gets the head.