Unlike most sports, the NBA playoff system is very generous to the teams vying to make the postseason. More than 50 percent (16 of 30) of the teams in the league that play the regular season will make it to the playoffs.
Although it seems relatively easy to get into the NBA playoffs, the two-month-long playoff schedule will be brutal for the teams that go the distance.
The last few years, it has been harder for teams in the Western Conference to make the playoffs than for the teams in the East. The main reason has been that the relative quality of teams in the West has been undoubtedly superior.
In the 2007-08 season, the Golden State Warriors had to sit out the playoffs in the West despite posting a 48-34 season while the Atlanta Hawks (37-45) made it in the East with a losing season. The Warriors would have been a fourth-seed in the Eastern Conference that year.
Last season (2008-09), the Phoenix Suns (46-36) missed the playoffs win 46 regular season wins in the Western Conference. While, in the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons (39-43) made it through to the postseason with a paltry 39 wins (again, a losing regular season). The Suns would have nabbed the fifth seed if they played in the Eastern Conference that year.
Even this year, the Eastern Conference had a close battle between the Chicago Bulls (41-41) and the Toronto Raptors (40-42) for the eighth playoff spot. In the Western Conference, all eight playoff teams have 50 or more wins.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, with an impressive 50-32 regular-season record this year, would have had the fourth seed if they were in the Eastern Conference. But they had to settle for the eighth seed in the West.
Apart from the disparity in difficulty level of making the playoffs, battling tougher teams in the regular season, the Western Conference teams also have a tougher road in the playoffs.
This season, the No.1 seed in the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers, have a first-round slate against the No. 8 Bulls, who not only struggled till the last day of the regular season to make the playoffs but are only a .500 team.
This should be a walk in the park for the Cavs compared to the West, where the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers have to battle Kevin "the Durantula" Durant and the energetic Thunder.
Imagine the beating and effort required by a team to go deep into the playoffs through the Western Conference bracket, compared to teams in the Eastern Conference.