The western conference has been the dominant conference of the two NBA conferences for the last two decades. Not since the Michael Jordan lead Chicago Bulls has the Eastern Conference been more dominant than the West. Yes, the east has won 8 of the 21 NBA titles since 2000 and it has taken down many of the western juggernauts in the finals. But while the Eastern elite teams have been on par with their western counterparts, it’s been the second-tier competitive level that has shown the biggest difference. But is that about to change?
The NBA season is only a month in and changes are already being felt. The West is once again a muddled mess, but the feel of the west is not a muddled mess of elite teams, but of mediocre teams not destined for much. Pretty much the same feeling the east has had for decades.
The East however, feels and looks different. The east has 11 teams with 500 or better records compared to the West’s 9. But a look at the teams and it is clear that the bottom teams in the east are just better than the western team. Right now the 11th spot in the east is held down by the Atlanta Hawks, a team that just made the conference finals. The 11th seed in the west is the six games below 500 Oklahoma City Thunder. This may not seem all that bad, but the quality of the two teams cannot be more different. The Hawks are a legit playoff contender and the only thing the Thunder are contending for is to one day own every 1st round pick in a draft.
The West usually has the top-tier elites as well, and this year is no different. The Golden State Warriors are the betting odds and offers favorites to win the NBA title. They hold the best record in the NBA and are still missing Klay Thompson. Not to mention they have a guy in Steph Curry who is a proven winner. The West also has the Phoenix Suns, last years runner up, but after that it gets slim. last years overall #1 seed, the Utah Jazz are also there, but lets face it, as long as the Jazz have Rudy Gobert as their best player this team is pretty much playoff fodder. The Clippers are without Kawhi Leonard and have not been impressive at all this year. The Mavericks are the best hot garbage in the NBA right now, and are a Luka Doncic injury or bad game from the lottery. Memphis, Portland, Denver, and the Lakers are all just mediocre and they make Utah’s Gobert problem seem like a blessing. At least the Jazz can win in the regular season with an overrated useless star: unlike these teams.
The Lakers should be good. But Lebron James is at the end of his career and injuries and minutes have worn him down to where he is a good player, but not a great player. The rest of the Lakers squad like Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis are proven not to be able to lead a team anywhere.
The East has a lot of young upstart teams, and champion-caliber contenders. Currently, the Brooklyn Nets are in first place. This is a team with three of the time 10 players in the league on its roster, and if it has been playing with harden recovering and getting no love from officials and Kyrie Irving off in a fantasy land where the Earth is flat and science is done by Dr. Suess. But they still have Kevin Durant, who has solidified himself as the best player on the planet.
Below the Nets are a bevy of very good teams. The defending champion Bucks really do not need an introduction. They are dealing with some injuries but we all know what they can do. The Bulls are a young team with a lot of talent. They are unproven but they have beaten several of the western top teams handily. Washington may have some question marks, but they took off last year with Bradley Beal and now that Russell Westbrook is Lebron’s problem they look like a true contender. Miami and Boston are proven commodities and the Knicks look real as well.
The one outlier in the whole Eastern bracket seems to be the Charlotte Hornets. Who have beaten the top team, the Warriors, but also managed to lose to the Sacramento Kings. But they have been good more often than not this season and if Gordon Hayward can stay healthy they will have a chance.
Chances are though, the west will benefit from the east having more good teams in the finals, much like the east has for decades. The west has beaten up on itself as usually the top 3 or 4 teams are western teams and one elite east team cakewalks through the playoffs and stuns the western elite (See Cleveland 2016 and Detroit 2004) The Warriors will likely blast through the western crap teams like Denver, Portland, Utah, or the Lakers before finally facing the Suns and getting to the finals pretty easily. While the Nets will have to go through Chicago, Miami, Boston, New York, or Milwaukee to get there.