For over a decade now the going theme in the NBA has been the dominance of the Western Conference over the East. And, being completely honest, that narrative is 100 percent, absolutely fair. However, in news that’s as earth shattering as the Brooklyn Nets taking the Golden State Warriors to overtime, that narrative may be about to change.
The difference has been so bad that two years ago, Tom Ziller of SB Nation just argued we should abandon the whole idea of conferences altogether:
We are a month into the NBA season and there is one storyline that remains no surprise whatsoever: the Western Conference is far superior to the East. This is nothing new. This is problematic. There is an obvious solution. There is clear evidence that this is not simply cyclical — that this looks like a permanent issue. It’s time for the NBA to fix it.
Since the millennium rolled over, there’s only been one time the East had a better winning percentage than the West. And last year, the chasm hit a record high (or low as it were). The Milwaukee Bucks, with 41 wins were a No. 6 seed. That wouldn’t have been enough to make the playoffs in the West.
In fact, it wouldn’t even qualify to be the first team out. And the top five teams in the West would’ve all finished with at least the second-best record in the East (though, the Atlanta Hawks did have the second-best record in the NBA). And if you’re like me, and the fan of an Eastern Conference team, you’ve looked at all this with a mixture of guilt and glee: happy your team doesn’t have to go through the same mill as they do in the West, but a little embarrassed about it at the same time.
The funny thing about permanence is that it doesn’t always stick around.
This is a new year, and the early signs point to a shocking new trend. Through the first 52 inter-conference games played, the East has a (insert gasp here) 27-25 record against the West. And, lest you think it’s the luck of scheduling, based on Strength of Schedule rankings at Basketball-Reference.com, the West has an average of -.4 in SOS and the East has a +.4
And when you factor in Margin of Victory and Strength of Schedule together to come up with Simple Rating System, the East is +.29 while the West is -.21. No matter how many directions you look at it, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the facts stipulate, that at least so far this season, the East has outperformed the West.
So maybe it’s just a few teams in the East racking up the wins while the West has some sluggards taking the Ls for the conference, right? Wrong. Six of 15 teams in the West have a winning record against the East while 10 Eastern Conference teams are at least .500 against the West.
Here’s a look at every team’s record against the other conference:
In fact, it’s more the other way around. The San Antonio Spurs at 5-1 and Golden State Warriors at 2-0 are actually carrying the West. If you discount those two results, the East has a 26-18 advantage.
Also, if the playoffs were held today, five of the East’s teams (seeds 3 through 7) would have a better record than their similarly seeded counterpart in the West.
Granted, we’re still only one-eighth of the way through the season, but at least based on the early signs, the East may be finally catching up to the West.