I've discussed in the past, how the present divisional set up of the NBA tends to piss me off. Divisions are completely arbitrary and meaningless. Teams play their divisional foes four times and non-divisional conference foes three or four times. In reality, they play their conference as much as their division for the most part.
This has always set up something of an inequity in terms of playoff seeding. The NBA mostly fixed this problem a few years ago when they changed the rule stating that all division winners earned a top three seed. This had the L.A. Clippers and Denver Nuggets playing each other in a battle to see who could lose in order to get the 6th seed rather than the 5th seed because the third seed was much weaker than the fourth.
The Clippers won that battle by losing the game, and they won a round of the playoffs whereas the Nuggets did not.
Now, the division winner is only guaranteed a seed up to four, and since playoff home court is decided based on record and not seed, the fourth seed can play the fifth seed starting on the road which for all intents and purposes makes them the fifth seed.
That all said, look at the way the East breaks out right now, and the five best teams seem fairly clear at the onset.
Heat, Magic, Bulls, Celtics, Hawks.
We can argue about the order of those teams, but I think most people are going to go with the order I put them in or swap the Bulls and Celtics based on how hard Rivers pushes his Celtics in the regular season.
However, the Bulls and Celtics are afforded a rather unique advantage over the Hawks. Their divisions are more or less terrible. The Hawks are almost locked into the fifth seed as their highest upside position, because they simply aren't better than the Magic or Heat unless massive injury strikes their rosters.
At the risk of jinxing the heck out of them, the Bulls and Celtics have floors of the 4th seed unless they completely fall apart or a team comes out of nowhere in their divisions. Milwaukee won 46 games last season, but look at their roster and tell me you really expect that to happen again. Skiles deserves the lifetime achievement award for what he's gotten out of some bad teams, but I don't see the Bucks improving this year.
This puts the Bulls and Celtics in a somewhat favorable position. Not only are they unlikely to fall out of the 5th spot, but as long as they don't, they also can't play each other. Say the Hawks, Bulls, and Celtics all finish with similar records, then one of them squares off against the "best of the rest" 6th seed while the other plays the Hawks.
Maybe I'm putting the cart ahead of the horse, but if I'm either team I'd rather face the Hawks than each other. The Hawks become the worst case first round matchup for either team which doesn't seem so daunting. At least not in August.
Granted, if the Bulls take care of their business and win their games, it shouldn't matter one way or the other what the divisional alignment is, but I'll still sleep better with the knowledge that a division win means the Bulls avoid the big three in the conference in round one, and a division win shouldn't provide much challenge this year.