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Stern defends playoff format

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The Northwest Division-champion Jazz are the Western Conference's No. 4 seed in this year's NBA playoffs, since division winners are guaranteed to be seeded no worse than fourth. The Houston Rockets, who did not win their division, are seeded No. 5.

Yet it's the Rockets, and not the Jazz, who have homecourt advantage in the best-of-seven first-round series between the teams — because Houston ended the regular season with a better record than Utah.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, in town for Thursday's Game 3 of the series, said he has no problem with a division-title team playing without the home-floor edge in the postseason's opening round.

"And the alternative is?" Stern asked, answering a question with a question.

When it was suggested that one alternative might be trying to find a way to make winning the division a little more meaningful than a mere avenue for selling T-shirts and ballcaps, Stern scoffed.

"I don't think it's about T-shirts," he said.

"We could spend a night here," he added, "going over all of the iterations, and we would find a shortcoming to every one."

The NBA did tinker with its playoff setup after last season, ensuring that if two teams from the same conference finish with the league's top two records — even if they are from the same division — they will not meet until at least their conference finals.

That addressed the issue of Dallas and San Antonio meeting prematurely last year. Now, though, Stern sees no additional needs for adjustments.

"People say the team with the better record — that's why you play all year — should have the better opportunity," he said.

THE REAL REASON: The commissioner cited three reasons for his rare trip to Utah.

One is that the Jazz are in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Another is that Thursday was Jazz owner Larry H. Miller's 63rd birthday.

Then there is this: "And it's on the way to Oakland," said Stern, who will attend tonight's game between Golden State and Dallas.

NAME GAME: The visit was Stern's first to the old Delta Center since it was renamed EnergySolutions Arena earlier this season.

"The airline business being what it is, we have to open up new fronts," the commissioner said. "Next up, who knows? Maybe Google, Amazon, eBay. Because times are a-changin' with respect to naming."

Stern has no trouble with the building's new sponsor, a Salt Lake City-based company that disposes low-level radioactive and hazardous waste in Tooele County.

"That can tend to be a political issue, but I don't have a problem with it," he said. "I think there's a fair debate about nuclear energy, and it's a very respected industry, and one that is probably better developed in other countries than it is in the U.S."

TV TALK: Stern made no excuses for Game 3 being shown nationally only on NBA TV and not on the wider-reaching TNT or ESPN.

"We like it very much," he said of the league's own network. "We'd obviously like it to be in more households, but we haven't mounted an aggressive campaign to that end. But we will next season."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com