Effective immediately, the NBA's Eastern and Western Conference standings will be seeded by their regular-season record. Gone are the days where an inferior division leader gets no worse than a No. 4 seed in the NBA playoffs. It's now possible a team from any given division does not make the playoffs! (ahem, Atlantic.)
The NBA announced the change on Tuesday after an unanimous decision by the NBA Board of Governors. The changes were unanimously recommended prior to being voted on. Unanimous. Unanimous. The Board also approved head-to-head records as the first tiebreaker for playoff seeding and home court advantage. Division winners aren't dead, yet, though -- they will stay play a factor as the second tiebreaker.
These rules would've changed the 2003-2004 playoffs, but would've only changed the first round. Instead of being the No. 3 seed behind the Atlantic Division winner New Jersey Nets, the Pistons would've been a No. 2 seed and played the No. 7 New York Knicks in the first round, not the No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks. So they played an extra game. In the next round, the Pistons played the Nets and had home court advantage because they had the better record despite being seeded lower.
The 2006 and 2007 playoffs would've been different, too. In fact, the 2006 playoffs could've been drastically different. The Cleveland Cavaliers had the third best record but dropped to No. 4 because the New Jersey Nets won the Atlantic Division. If the Cavaliers would've been a No. 3 seed, the Pistons would not have faced them in the Eastern semis before seeing the ultimate NBA champions in the conference finals. After a grueling seven-game series against the Cavs, the Pistons fell to the Miami Heat in six. If the Heat had to play LeBron in the semis, maybe they lose in six to Detroit and Detroit goes on to its third straight NBA finals appearance and wins another NBA championship.
So, yeah, good rule change.