On the Salt Lake Tribune's basketball blog, Ross Siler points out the very real possibility that the Jazz, Spurs, Rockets, and Suns could all end the season 55-27.
It'll take the coordinated efforts of all teams involved, and a Jazz win in San Antonio, where they tend to lose.
But it really could happen.
My first thought is: Cool! Exciting! Historical! And a perfect way to cap the West's season of parity.
My next thought was ... wow. I wonder how they break that tie? The division winners have to be in the top four. And the usual tie-breaker -- head to head record -- would seem to be a little more complicated with four teams.
I'm not sure how exactly the NBA would break a four-way tie. The Jazz would have to be assured a top four seed as a division champion.
As far as individual tiebreakers go, the Spurs have a better division record than Houston, Phoenix owns the season series against San Antonio and Houston has a better conference record than Phoenix. Round and round we go.
If it comes down to conference record, the Jazz would finish 34-18, Houston 33-19, San Antonio 32-20 and Phoenix 31-21. The Jazz would play the Suns in the first round under this tiebreaker.
If it comes down to head-to-head against the other three teams, the Jazz are 7-3, Phoenix is 6-5, Houston is 5-6 and San Antonio is 4-8. The numbers are different because some teams were only scheduled to play three times this season.
The Jazz would play San Antonio in the first round under this tiebreaker. If San Antonio loses Monday and Wednesday, Utah and the Spurs would meet in the first round as well.
Of course, the Jazz also could lose Wednesday in San Antonio for the 21st consecutive time and settle for the No. 4 seed and a series with Houston.
OK, I can help here, I think. After the jump, I posted the entire tie-break rules, straight from the NBA. They are not entirely simple. You may want to bookmark this post so you can check them again as these next few days unfold.
My simplified interpretation as applies here: if all four end up tied, it does come down to winning percentage in games among the tied teams. And we're lucky, this year, that in this scenario such a tie-breaker really would settle everything without having to go deeper into the rules.
Based on Siler's research a few paragraphs above, if those four teams end up 55-27, after the tie-breaks have been applied, the Lakers and Hornets would be followed in the third through sixth spots in the West with:
Again, we apply the tie-break procedures, although now we only have two teams to consider. And if this tie happens, then Utah will have finished 3-0 against the Spurs this season, and so the Jazz will get the extra game at home.
Playoff Tie-Break Procedures
Ties for playoff positions (including division winners) will be broken utilizing the criteria set forth in subparagraph a. below (in the case of ties involving two teams) and subparagraph b. below (in the case of ties involving more than two teams), and the guidelines set forth in subparagraph c. below.
Two Teams Tied
In the case of a tie in regular-season records involving only two teams, the following criteria will be utilized in the following order:
(a) The first four seeds in each conference will continue to be given to the three division winners and the team with the next best regular season record, but these four teams will now be seeded in order of their regular season records. Among other things, this change will ensure that the two teams with the best records in the conference will not meet earlier than the Conference Finals.
(b) When a tie must be broken to determine a division winner, the results of the tie-break shall be used to determine only the division winner and its playoff position, not any other playoff position(s).
If a tie involves more than two teams, the tie-break criteria in subparagraph b. shall be applied in the order set forth therein until the first to occur of the following:
(a) Each of the tied teams has a different winning percentage or point differential under the applicable tiebreak criterion (a "complete" breaking of the tie). In this circumstance, the team with the best winning percentage or point differential under the criterion will be awarded the best playoff position, the team with the next-best winning percentage or point differential will be awarded the next-best playoff position, and so on, and no further application of the tie-break criteria will be required.
(b) One or more (but not all) of the tied teams has a different winning percentage or point differential under the applicable tie-break criterion (a "partial" breaking of the tie). In this circumstance: (x) any team(s) that performed better under the applicable criterion than any other team(s) will be awarded a higher playoff position than such other team(s); and (y) teams that had equivalent performance under the applicable criterion will remain tied, and such remaining tie(s) will be broken by applying, from the beginning, the criteria in subparagraph
a.(1)-(6) above (for any remaining tie involving only two teams) or subparagraph
b.(1)-(5) above (for any remaining tie involving more than two teams) and the guidelines set forth in this subparagraph
If application of the criteria in subparagraph a. or b. does not result in the breaking of a tie, the playoff positions of the tied teams will be determined by a random drawing.