When comparing the Eastern and Western Conferences, the NBA standings look quite different this season in comparison to last year’s final standings. Sure, Cleveland and Atlanta sit atop the East again while Golden State sits atop the West. However, we have seen dramatic reshuffling in terms of teams and records as we approach the halfway mark.
If the playoffs were to start today, there would be five new teams that missed the postseason last year: Indiana, Orlando, Miami, Utah and Oklahoma City. While Oklahoma City, Miami and Utah all were predicted to contend for playoff spots, Indiana and Orlando are both surprises. Paul George is an MVP candidate and looks fully recovered from his tragic injury. Orlando’s youth have taken major strides this season and are very fun to watch. Orlando’s defense has taken a big leap this year and opponents are struggling to find easy baskets against them.
Over the past few years, conference imbalance has been a serious issue in the NBA. The Western Conference has had a winning record against the East in 11 out of the past 12 years. Teams often miss the playoffs in the West with above .500 records while bad basketball teams in the East are still qualifying. Some have pitched conference realignment while others have said the best 16 teams should make it regardless of your conference. However, the best idea has been the 2015-2016 season.
Last year, only six teams in the Eastern Conference were .500 or better while nine in the Western Conference were .500 or better. Oklahoma City missed the postseason at 45-37 while Brooklyn made it in the East at 38-44. This season, there are 11 teams at .500 or better in the Eastern Conference while there are only 7 in the West. One can make the argument that Golden State’s 28-1 record makes the West look worse while Philadelphia’s 2-30 record makes the East look better, but the East actually has a winning record verse the Western Conference so far.
The current eight seed in the West is Utah with a 12-16 record. Meanwhile, Washington is the 11th best team in the East right now at 14-14. Conference imbalance may finally be switching due to the quality of basketball being played right now in the East. Charlotte, Detroit, Indiana and Orlando are all teams over .500 that many predicted to have losing seasons. Even Washington, who is currently .500 and underperforming, should finish the season above .500 with the talent on that roster.
The big question still looms though: will it change? Looking at the way teams are playing, I do not think it will. Utah should eventually finish above .500, but I don’t see New Orleans making a postseason push after their horrible start. Portland, Denver, Minnesota, Sacramento, Pheonix and Los Angeles (Lakers) are all lottery bound as well. The East will have a winning record against the West this year. Depth is finally present in the East.