NEW YORK — The NBA estimates an increase of 40,000 miles of travel in the postseason if it scrapped its current conference format and took the top 16 teams.
Calls to change the system were renewed this week when LeBron James left Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers, which could create another strong Western Conference team, where both Houston and Golden State finished above .700. The only team in the Eastern Conference with a similar record was Toronto. Houston and Golden State met in a thrilling West final before the Warriors swept the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
Commissioner Adam Silver has said ideally there would be a format allowing the two best teams to meet for the title, but he has repeatedly expressed concern about the additional travel that would be created if teams were seeded 1 to 16 in the postseason, instead of the current format in which it's the top eight teams in each conference.
"I think, as I've said in the past, the obstacle is travel, and it's not tradition in my mind, at least," Silver said at the All-Star break. "It's that as we've added an extra week to the regular season, as we've tried to reduce the number of back-to-backs, that we are concerned about teams crisscrossing the country in the first round, for example. We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams."
The league says it averages about 90,000 miles of total travel in the postseason and estimates that would increase to 130,000. It estimates, based on historical data, an average of 2½ series per year matching teams separated by three time zones before the NBA Finals, with about a 90 percent chance of at least one per season.
The WNBA switched its playoff format to the top eight teams instead of by conference in 2016.
A 1-to-16 format would likely mean the league would have to balance the schedule so teams played the same amount of games in the regular season against East and West teams, instead of playing more against the teams on its side.
That would create about 150,000 additional miles of travel in the regular season, the league estimates, from the 1.4 million miles of total travel in 2017-18.
"It's still my hope that we're going to figure out ways," Silver said. "Maybe ultimately you have to add even more days to the season to spread it out a little bit more to deal with the travel. Maybe air travel will get better. All things we'll keep looking at."