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It's not Clippers' fault losing might be a win

Look, this doesn't have to be anybody's fault.

"Nobody's going to do anything intentional. Mike [Dunleavy] has way too much pride for that. But right now, No. 6 does look a lot better than 5."
Chris Kaman

OK, so it's the NBA's fault.

At any rate, the Clippers didn't ask for what happened this week, so let no one suggest that L.A. purposely wanted to tank its game in Memphis on Tuesday night. "Tank" is an extremely strong word in the sporting universe. Let's leave "tank" out of the conversation completely. Tank, tankage, tankable. Tank tank tank.

Instead, let's acknowledge the obvious, which is that you don't see this kind of situation all the time: The Clippers actually were looking at a scenario in which they had absolutely no incentive to win. Now, any reasonable Clips fan can tell you this used to happen (more or less) for months at a time around Donald Sterling's club, but this is different. This is a case in which losing worked better than winning when it came to how L.A.'s playoff shuffle might play out.

Or, as Elton Brand put it for reporters Monday afternoon, "This isn't our fault."

Hey, it doesn't have to be anybody's fault.

Right: It's the NBA's fault.

Once upon a time, somebody in New York had the idea that the regular-season division titles ought to be something held up as semisacred, so a plan was hatched: The three division winners would receive the top three seeds in each conference, regardless of the records they compiled along the way.

In the West this year, that meant that San Antonio, Phoenix and Denver would get the top three seeds. Denver, at No. 3, won its race (the Granik Division, I believe) by going 44-37 to this point.

But there is a problem. Actually, it's about three problems. They are: (1) The Nuggets will finish with an inferior record to both Memphis and the Clips, meaning that (2) whichever one of those teams winds up with the No. 6 seed actually will be accorded home-court advantage for that first-round series with Denver while (3) the No. 5 seed -- technically the better team -- plays … well, hell, it's Dallas, a 60-game winner, with the Mavs holding the home court.

To repeat: Your reward for finishing fifth is a first-round meeting with the Mavs, who only battled the Spurs all season for the best record in the West. Your punishment for finishing sixth is a first-round meeting with Denver in which you hold the Game 7 home court.

If the Clips (who have lost four of their last six games) were to lose to Memphis, they would be locked in at No. 6. If they win and beat Dallas on Wednesday (and Memphis loses to Minnesota), they are No. 5. Let's all do the merry math together.

"Nobody's going to do anything intentional," the Clips' Chris Kaman said this past weekend. "Mike [Dunleavy] has way too much pride for that. But right now, No. 6 does look a lot better than 5."

All hail the punitive victory! We have redefined sport, however briefly.

And brief is the word. In a teleconference on the eve of the playoffs, both NBA commissioner David Stern and his outgoing aide de camp, Russ Granik, suggested that this sort of thing might be, you know … fixable.

"I think that, at least superficially, when we delve down a little bit, it seems to be that maybe we should go to a seeding of the four best teams by their records."
David Stern

"I think that, at least superficially, when we delve down a little bit, it seems to be that maybe we should go to a seeding of the four best teams by their records," Stern said. That's just vague enough. The system likely to go in place after this season still will reward the division winners with one of the top four seeds, with their actual placements determined strictly by overall record.

That doesn't make for a perfect world, of course -- and thank goodness. The Nuggets, under that scenario, still would have been given a top-four seed this season despite finishing with a worse record than either Nos. 5 or 6 (perhaps even the No. 7 Lakers, depending how this week ends).

But nobody wants perfect. Perfect is boring. Take away the fan's right to deliver some petty sniping and the usual off-kilter rant, and you're choking the life out of sport.

Under that modified system, though, you'd at least have the Spurs at No. 1 and the Mavs at No. 2, and if the seedings held, those teams would meet in the conference finals rather than in the second round. That makes solid sense, which must explain why it was abandoned as an idea some time ago in favor of the Make Divisions Matter! campaign that took hold instead.

Meanwhile, there stood the Clippers this week, sending coach Dunleavy forward to explain that nobody thinks Denver is a pushover, the Nuggets play tough, the playoffs are a new season -- all the usual rot.

Of course, the Clippers went 3-1 against the Nuggets this season and have lost all three to the Mavs with a schedule-ending game in Dallas remaining. But who's counting?

Mark Kreidler of The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at mkreidler@sacbee.com.