NBA rules led to Spurs-Clippers matchup in the West's first round

Third- and sixth-seeded Clippers and Spurs make for a very competitive first round in the West

This was how the West was not so fun.

The Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, the NBA's two hottest teams and ones that had tied for the third- and fifth-best records in the league, respectively, somehow met in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

The matchup was largely the result of league rules that permitted the Portland Trail Blazers, a team with a worse record than the Spurs, to hold onto the fourth seeding while bumping the Spurs to the sixth seeding.

It didn't make much sense to Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, either.

"It seems odd that a team that wins 55 and a team that wins 56 end up playing in the first round," Popovich said before the Clippers eliminated his team with a 111-109 victory in Game 7 on Saturday night at Staples Center. "That's a tough, tough West. Every year we beat ourselves up in the West to get over to the East for the Finals.

"This is a ridiculously tough first round, as everybody knows, but it's been competitive, and I think fans enjoy it. I don't know how [Clippers Coach] Doc [Rivers] and I enjoy it."

Rivers seemed equally incredulous.

"With two minutes left, Tim Duncan comes up to me and says, 'This is the first round?' " Rivers said afterward.

Popovich said the rule that allowed Portland to retain an inflated seeding in the first round "should be changed immediately. That doesn't make any sense." It is one of the issues that the NBA's competition committee is expected to consider tweaking this summer.

Another idea widely discussed has been allowing the teams with the best 16 records to make the playoffs.

"There are a whole lot of people smarter than you or I that have talked about it and have not changed it," Popovich said. "So there must be some good reasons, whether they're economic or travel or both, or something else we haven't thought of.

"It's easy to say, 'Do that,' but the next iteration and the iteration after that have to be thought out, and I'm sure they have."

Moving on

A year ago, Rivers wasn't wholly focused on his team on the eve of Game 7 in his first-round series.

He spent about an hour meeting with team employees from various departments to soothe hurt feelings in the wake of the scandal surrounding then-owner Donald Sterling.

It was those employees who dealt with the brunt of the fallout from audio recordings in which Sterling disparaged black people. Rivers told the employees to hang in there and things would get better.

They did when Steve Ballmer purchased the team after the NBA issued a lifetime ban for Sterling.

"It was easy in some ways because you just kind of expected it at that point," Rivers said of meeting with the employees instead of his players. "Everything was going nuts at that point, and it is nice [now] to be able to just focus on basketball."

Hot ticket

Fans paid an average of $205 per ticket on the secondary market for Game 7, making it the most expensive ticket of the series, according to ticket search engine SeatGeek.

Twitter: @latbbolch

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