For years and years the Western Conference was seen as the strongest in the NBA. If we wanted, we could mark as a hinge the retirement of Michael Jordan and the end of the Chicago Bulls dynasty in 1998, giving way to new teams from the West that took the competition in a fist: from there we saw Tim’s San Antonio Duncan win five titles, Kobe Bryant’s Lakers add another five and Steph Curry’s Warriors add another three. In fact, since that second goodbye to MJ, 14 of the last 22 champions have come from that sector of the competition, while in the East we can hardly highlight Miami (three championships) as the closest thing to a dynasty (although unlike Spurs, Lakers and Warriors, with a different coach and only Wade as a repeated star).
Of course, the power of the West was not only explained through titles, but also from its depth. Perhaps the clearest example of this has been given in 2013-2014, where the Phoenix Suns were left out of the Playoffs with a 48-34 record, while the Atlanta Hawks entered the East, having won only 38 games. If Phoenix had switched conferences that season, it would have ended up tied for the third-best record on that table.
Although that 2013-2014 took the contrast to the extreme, the truth is that for more than two decades we have been operating within a similar scenario: the East may have two or three teams capable of fighting at the top, but when we think about the Conference more demanding and profound, we usually keep in mind wild West. But … does that idea still hold? If we look closely at what is happening in 2021-2022, we will probably find a negative answer.
And it is that not only does the West no longer have as many candidates as in previous years, but the East has taken a gigantic step forward. The first clear example of this is discovered by observing what happens in interconference matches: the East currently dominates those matches with 48 victories at the time of publication, to just 36 for their counterpart.
Just as a reference, It is worth saying that in that aforementioned 2013-2014, that battle widely favored the West by a difference of 284 victories against 166. The turn has been really sharp.
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In terms of favorites, the East also has more options. In the West we hardly have the Warriors and the Suns as firm candidates and without too many questions about how they will react in the Playoffs (yes there are with teams like Utah, Dallas, Blazers or Clippers, among others). However, that list includes more names from the other side of the map: the champions Milwaukee Bucks, the Brooklyn Nets and the Miami Heat are the mainstays of this season, as well as the Philadelphia 76ers who, if they get it right in their handling of the Ben Simmons issue, could also have enough arguments to aspire to a Finals.
Anyway, where we really see the change is in the depth factor. And it is that the East not only has those four teams (Bucks, Nets, Heat and 76ers) marked as favorites, but also other teams that it would not be illogical to imagine winning at least one series of Playoffs: Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks y Boston Celtics. And we could even add to Charlotte Hornets y New York Knicks, who today are within the Top 6 and could be demanding rivals for anyone who meets them in a 1st Round.
There are 10 teams of clear competitive cut and that can calmly finish 2021-2022 with a winning record. Even the discards on that list, with the exception of Detroit and Orlando, are respectable sets: Cleveland Cavaliers is 9-9 today, the Toronto Raptors can fight anyone on a good night and although they did not start well, the Indiana Pacers have material to add to that Top 10 that will at least go to the Play-In.
The difference with the West is clear. Finding 10 good teams is already very difficult: we would have to include a Memphis Grizzlies that today have the sixth worst Net Rating in the league and an extremely irregular Minnesota Timberwolves. And furthermore, while the East continues to add solid teams like Cleveland, Indiana and Toronto outside of that Top 10, in the West we find franchises in reconstruction or at a very low current level such as Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston, Sacramento and New Orleans. .
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The Simple Rating System is a metric used by Basketball-Reference, focused on the performance of each team, adding the quality factor of rivals. For now, teams in the Eastern Conference are at +10.3 this season, while those in the West are at -10.6. The East has only two teams with a value below -1 (Pistons and Magic), while in the West we find eight of them (Kings, Mavs, Grizzlies, Spurs, Lakers, Thunder, Pelicans and Rockets).
The only place the West still seems to hold an advantage is in the weight of the superstars in terms of public attention. In the last All-Star vote, there were six players from the West who received at least three million votes: LeBron, Jokic, Kawhi, Davis, Curry and Luka. However, we only found four of them in the East: Durant, Embiid, Giannis, and Beal.
Outside of that, we seem to be facing a very clear conclusion: the balance of power in the NBA has shifted position and is tilting towards the Atlantic Coast.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the NBA or its organizations.