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The Numbers Game: NBA's Eastern Conference Finally Matching West's Depth

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 02:   Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat looks to drive with the basketball against Trevor Ariza #1 of the Houston Rockets during their game at the Toyota Center on February 2, 2016  in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2016

The NBA has waited a long time for its Eastern Conference teams to catch up with the Western Conference. And, in many ways, it's still waiting.

Indeed, all of the East's projected playoff participants are on pace to be over .500 for just the second time in the last decade. But the combined winning percentage of the West's four best squads (78.9) is more than 15 points higher than their Eastern Conference counterparts (63.6).

It's on the back end of the postseason bracket that the East has actually gained ground, as shown by weighing the cumulative winning percentages of each conference's bottom-four playoff seeds:

For the first time since 1998-99 and just the fourth time over the past 20 years, the East's last four postseason-bound teams (Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons) are on track to win more games than their cross-standings rivals (Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz).

Here's the thing: The East is still reaping the benefits of an early-season boon. Since Dec. 1, the combined winning percentages of the West's current latter four seeds is five points better—a difference of roughly four victories over the course of an 82-game schedule:

Statistical equality is an accomplishment in itself for the East's middle class given how the previous two decades have unfolded, and it still holds a slight edge in overall winning percentage.

But that gap is gradually closing, and now the East's second tier must finish 2015-16 strong in order to retain the competitive parity it has taken so long to regain.

 

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are accurate leading into games on Feb. 8 unless otherwise cited. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @danfavale.

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