The Eastern Conference is on the verge of making NBA history—and that's not a good thing.
With a paltry 163-280 record (.368 winning percentage) against Western Conference foes, the East is in dire need of some inter-conference victories to stay out of the hoop history books.
Only seven East-West games are left on the 2013-14 schedule, and the East needs more than a few to avoid setting a new mark for futility.
Dan Feldman of NBC Sports explains:
If the East wins two of the remaining games, it will tie its 2004 predecessor as the NBA’s worst conference ever. If the East wins zero or one, it will rank alone at the bottom.
A caveat: The NBA didn’t adopt conferences until 1971. Prior, the league had divisions that effectively served as conferences as we know them (only they weren’t subdivided into separate units, as divisions do to conferences today).
Just to clarify, the worst term is being handed out for performance in cross-conference matchups. The East's current winning percentage, via Feldman, matches that of the 1972 East (125-215) and tops only the 2004 version (154-266).
Considering the end of the regular season is less than two weeks away, the East is running out of time to make its move. There isn't a gimme victory left on the schedule, either.
|Remaining Inter-Conference Matchups|
|April 4||Minnesota Timberwolves||Miami Heat|
|April 5||Minnesota Timberwolves||Orlando Magic|
|April 9||Miami Heat||Memphis Grizzlies|
|April 9||Chicago Bulls||Minnesota Timberwolves|
|April 11||Philadelphia 76ers||Memphis Grizzlies|
|April 13||Oklahoma City Thunder||Indiana Pacers|
|April 16||Detroit Pistons||Oklahoma City Thunder|
The good news is that the East will still be bringing out some of its best. The conference needs three wins and it will still get two games out of the Miami Heat (52-22) and one each from the Indiana Pacers (53-23) and the Chicago Bulls (43-32).
The bad news is that two bottom feeders will also represent the conference down the final stretch (Philadelphia 76ers, 16-59, and Orlando Magic, 21-54) along with the plummeting Detroit Pistons (27-48, 2-8 in their last 10 games).
The worst team the West will bring to the festivities? The Minnesota Timberwolves (37-37), who might be sitting 10th in their conference but would climb all the way to No. 7 if they switched affiliations.
Even if the East avoids this historic stain, the conference (taken as a whole) is obviously atrocious.
"Since the NBA’s major divisor became conferences, the 2014 East will go down as one of the worst of all-time," Feldman wrote. "The only remaining question is whether it will be the worst of all time."
As bad as the East has been, the top two-thirds of the West has been equally brilliant. The ninth-seeded Phoenix Suns (44-31) would be the third seed in the East—11.5 games up on the currently eighth-seeded New York Knicks.
"More than half of the NBA makes the playoffs. It should be impossible for good teams to miss the cut," ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote. "And yet, with its conference system, the NBA accomplishes just that."
This issue isn't new. The 48-win Golden State Warriors couldn't crack a crowded Western Conference playoff field in 2008, while the 37-win Atlanta Hawks went dancing in the East.
But the conferences do seem to have comparable strength at the top. Of the past 10 NBA champions, five have come from either side of the basketball landscape.
Throw in the fact this system has been in place for more than 40 years and it would have to take something dramatic for the league to consider making a change.
Something like one of the conferences being historically bad, perhaps?