If the season ended today, three Eastern Conference teams with losing records would qualify for the NBA Playoffs. Furthermore, the three worst teams in basketball all come from East, whose teams seem to fall further behind their Western counterparts each season.
The plight of the East has been well documented, with teams winning less than 50 percent of their games against teams across the aisle every season since 1999 — save for 2009 when they won 51.3 percent of their games. Eastern Conference teams have won just five of the last 15 NBA championships.
The Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs last season despite having 10 fewer wins than the Phoenix Suns, who managed to miss out on the Western Conference playoffs. It wasn’t all that surprising: Since 2010-11, the East has had four teams make the NBA playoffs with losing records, while the West has had six teams with winning or .500 records miss the cut.
This season, there are only seven 10-win teams in the East and 11 in the West. It’s difficult enough finding an Eastern Conference matchup interesting enough to sit through. The Knicks, Pistons and 76ers are so lost at sea that the National Guard has called off searches.
With the disproportions so evident and the East’s horrific yet predictable start to the season, Grantland’s Zach Lowe took to Twitter:
However, according to Bloomberg Sports’ NBA League Projections, which are simulated and updated daily to reflect a plethora of factors that you can read about here, that won’t happen this season.
Once that the teams most likely to make the Eastern Conference playoffs are taken out of the equation (Bulls, Cavaliers, Hawks, Raptors and Wizards), the last three available spots should be taken, if the projections hold up, by the Nets, Pacers and Hornets, none of which are projected to have more than 47.5 losses. While that would be the most total losses for any playoff team since 2000 (the Celtics lost 46 games in 2003-04 and made the cut), it would fall just short of the 50-loss mark.
In October, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight projected that the Hornets would earn the final Eastern Conference playoff spot while losing 45 games. The Post’s Neil Greenberg projected they would get in with a 42-40 regular season record. Both appear more plausible than a 50-loss team from the East.
Lowe wasn’t hating on the Eastern Conference. He’s just pointing out the possibility that a 50-loss team could make the playoffs for the first time since the 31-51 Spurs in 1987-88. All it takes is an injury or a poor stretch by one of the East’s fringe teams for history to to take place.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Rivals, Vice, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. He’s currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).