Ever since the NBA decided division winners were no longer guaranteed a playoff spot, let alone a top-four playoff seed, the five-team groupings have been rendered all but meaningless, and never was that more apparent than when the Denver Nuggets took over first place in the Northwest Division.
That’s because Nuggets phenom Nikola Jokic has no idea what other teams are even in the running:
When asked about being first in the Northwest Division, Jokic said he doesn’t know who’s in the Nuggets division. pic.twitter.com/kJ4yT4OuaW
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) November 12, 2017
“Yeah, I don’t know who’s in our division, so … ” Jokic said after a win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday. “But it’s real nice to hear that we’re in first.”
The Nuggets have been in the Northwest Division since its inception in 2004, and this year the grouping might be the NBA’s most competitive. The Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder should all vie for a playoff spot this season, and they’re all within two games of each other in the standings. The 125-107 win over Orlando pushed Denver (8-5) a half-game up on Minnesota (7-5), and the other three teams in the division all have six wins apiece.
And none of that really matters. The NBA moved in 2015 to seed each conference’s eight playoff teams by record, removing guarantees of playoff spots and top-four seeds for division winners. The only real value of winning your division now is in a tiebreaker scenario, and even then, that’s been demoted to the second tiebreaker behind head-to-head record for determining seeds and home-court advantage.
The only reason Jokic should really know which other teams are in his division is the fact that his Nuggets will face each of them four times this season, and yet Denver will also play six other out-of-division conference opponents on four occasions, so even that is seemingly as random as anything.
Theoretically, conferences and divisions were formed to create regional rivalries and lighten the travel load, but the Nuggets are closer to the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and the two Los Angeles teams than they are to Portland. The only natural rivalry between Denver and Portland is whether Nuggets or Blazers fans can consume more legal marijuana before games. It’s all very strange, and let’s not even talk about how the Memphis Grizzlies compete in the Western Conference’s Southwest Division.
So, who can blame Jokic? In fact, let this be the impetus for the destruction of divisions.
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