LOS ANGELES: Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James thinks the NBA playoffs format is just fine, and talk of tweaking it is misguided.
“I think our league has been built the right way as far as when it comes to the post-season,” James said Wednesday after the Cavaliers’ first practice since the All-Star break.
Western Conference teams have won three of the last four NBA titles, the Cavaliers the only Eastern interlopers in 2016.
The Golden State Warriors won in 2015 and 2017 — beating the Cavs both times — and the San Antonio Spurs won in 2014.
During the All-Star break NBA commissioner Adam Silver said there had been discussions in the league office about changing the format — perhaps by taking the top eight teams from each conference but re-seeding them 1-16 by overall record or, more dramatically, taking the top 16 regular-season teams regardless of conference.
“It just changes the landscape of the history of the game,” James said.
“If you start messing with seedings and playoffs and then you start talking about, ‘Well, if this team would have played this Western Conference team, what …’
“It’s cool to mess around with the All-Star Game — we proved you can do that — but let’s not get too crazy about the playoffs.”
James has been to seven straight NBA Finals, winning three titles with the Miami Heat and the Cavaliers.
He isn’t concerned about the recent dominance of the West.
“In the ’80s you had the Lakers who dominated the league at one point, then you had Boston. In the ’90s you had Chicago.
“San Antonio also had its run. We had our run in the East with Miami, Golden State is having their run.”
In discussing possible changes, Silver said the big concern, in his mind, wasn’t tradition but travel — if Eastern and Western teams are facing off in the early rounds.
“We are concerned about teams criss-crossing the country in the first round, for example,” he said. “We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams.”
Leonard might miss rest of season
San Antonio star forward Kawhi Leonard is still battling injury and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wednesday he’d “be surprised” to see him return this season.
“On Kawhi, I’d be surprised if he returns this season,” Popovich told reporters as the Spurs returned to practice in the wake of the NBA’s All-Star break.
“There are only X number of games left in the season and he’s still not ready to go,” added Popovich, whose remarks were posted on NBA.com.
“If by some chance he is (ready) it’s going to be pretty late in the season. But it’s going to be a tough decision, how late do you bring somebody back?
“That’s why I’m just trying to be honest and logical,” Popovich added. “I’d be surprised if he gets back this year.”
Leonard, the Most Valuable Player of the 2014 NBA Finals and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, has played just nine games this season because of recurring tendinopathy in his right quadriceps.
The 26-year-old missed the first 27 games of the season before an abortive return in December. The two-time All-Star hasn’t played since January 13, and the Spurs said on January 17 that he would be out indefinitely.
Even without him, the 35-24 Spurs are clinging to third place in the Western Conference. The teams in front of them, the Houston Rockets and reigning champion Golden State Warriors, have both won 44 games.
The 35-25 Minnesota Timberwolves are nipping at the Spurs heels for third place, and Popovich said his players will have to plan on defending their position without Leonard.
“The team has to realize that this is who we are, this is who we have,” he said. “Wishing and hoping doesn’t do anybody any good. We’ve got to do what we can to be the best team possible.”