The Power 5 Conferences of the NBA

By: PJ Guippone

College basketball has many conferences and many teams. The NBA does not have nearly as many of either one, but I wondered recently what the NBA would look like if it adopted a format similar to the NCAA. Each conference in college basketball has a headquarters, so for the new NBA conferences, I decided to start with that. I looked at the top five media markets in the NBA according to Nielsen via Reddit, but four of the top five were Eastern teams, so I decided to switch number six on the list with number four. This makes the five conference headquarters New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas (which replaces Toronto). This works out well because it is pretty well distributed throughout the regions of the nation. I have named each of these conferences based on their headquarters to have a little fun. New York is the Empire 6 (E6 for short), Los Angeles is the Western Sun (W-Sun or Dub-Sun for short), Chicago is Central 6 (C6 for short), Philadelphia is the Keystone Basketball League (Key League for short), and Dallas is the Big 6 (felt like I had to throw one “Big” conference name in there).

With 30 NBA teams, this makes for an evenly distributed six teams per conference. You may be thinking, “doesn’t the team that plays in the headquarters get an obvious advantage every hypothetical season?” and my answer would be yes. As a way around this, there are two things I have thought of. 1) the team that plays in the headquarter city will have about 10 (number open for debate) less home games than all the other teams in their conference, and 2) the conferences are geographically aligned so that travel for teams and fans is not too hard, so the away disadvantage is not as bad as usual.

This will also change the structure of the playoffs. Out of the five conferences, the top two from each will receive an automatic berth in the playoffs. From there, there will be six wild card teams total from the remaining teams. This will make for a normal 16-team NBA playoff, but the way it is created and the bracket will look entirely different. Once the playoff teams have been established, the automatic berths will get 1-10 and the rest will fill up the 16 team bracket. All sixteen teams are seeded from 1-16 and placed in a bracket similar to one region of an NCAA tournament bracket (tiebreakers are established by Conference standings, then head to head). So, 1 will play 16, 2 and 15, 3 and 14 and so on. The higher seed gets home court advantage in each playoff series, but if there is a game 7 in the semifinals or finals, that is played on a predetermined neutral court that is a headquarter of neither of the participating teams.

So now we have all the rules. Let’s get down to Conference realignment. Some of the realignment is tricky because there are a few big markets in the north east. That made the Key League a bit spread out, taking up the whole mid-Atlantic and into Florida. These are the final standings for the .


  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Detroit Pistons
  5. New York Knicks
  6. Brooklyn Nets


  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Los Angeles Clippers
  3. Portland Trail Blazers
  4. Sacramento Kings
  5. Los Angeles Lakers
  6. Phoenix Suns


  1. Utah Jazz
  2. Memphis Grizzlies
  3. Milwaukee Bucks
  4. Indiana Pacers
  5. Chicago Bulls
  6. Minnesota Timberwolves

Key League

  1. Washington Wizards
  2. Atlanta Hawks
  3. Miami Heat
  4. Charlotte Hornets
  5. Orlando Magic
  6. Philadelphia 76ers

Big 6

  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Houston Rockets
  3. Oklahoma City Thunder
  4. Denver Nuggets
  5. New Orleans Pelicans
  6. Dallas Mavericks

That makes the playoff picture look like this:

nba recon playoff.png
This is how the playoff picture would shake out. Would a sixteen seed have better luck here than it does in the NCAA Tournament? Doubtful, but also the eight seed has little luck in the first round in the NBA anyway. We would miss out on the best first-round matchup ever of the Rockets and the Thunder, but the Thunder could be a little more happy playing the Clippers. Overall, there are intriguing matchups, and it gives the possibility of the two best teams playing each other in the Finals regardless of East or West.

Fill out a bracket if you want and send it to us at

Note: this was originally published March 3, but I assumed it would be good to update it for the real playoffs.

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