- Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer
The 2004 Detroit Pistons come up a lot in my NBA analysis because they were such a unique team, a title winner who didn't feature an upper-tier Hall of Famer on the roster. In doing so, Joe Dumars gave fleeting hope for organizations trying to win with depth and balance. Teams can win at the league's highest level with that formula, even if it doesn't happen very often. However, those Pistons remain historically important for another reason that you never hear about: When they beat the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers in the Finals that year, they broke a half-decade stranglehold the Western Conference had on the league title.
At the time, the imbalance between the conferences was so extreme that there was a building debate whether teams should no longer be split along those lines when it came to postseason seeding. Just seed teams 1 to 16 based on regular-season record, and watch the league's two best teams battle it out in the Finals.
While the argument held some merit in terms of competitive balance, in reality the format would result in a lot of travel nightmares in the early rounds, and would fly in the face of how Americans view postseason structures in our sports. Even the NHL, which once held the open-seeding format, long ago went back to the conference paradigm. The O'Neal-Dwyane Wade Miami Heat then won the title in 2006, the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce Boston Celtics came along and, finally, the LeBron James dynasty was formed in South Beach. The clamor for open seeding in the NBA postseason has long since died out, and the conferences have evenly split the past 10 NBA crowns.
The funny thing is that from top to bottom, the West has continued to batter the East on an annual basis, and so far this season the gap between the conferences has widened into a chasm. Simply put, the Eastern Conference has been getting drilled in interconference play. So far the West was taken 37 of 54 matchups through Thursday's games.
5dEthan Sherwood Strauss
6dMatt Walks, ESPN.com