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Once again, the Western Conference played better than the East during the regular season for the 17th time in 18 seasons. They had the top 3 records in the league, and went 246-204 against the East in head-to-head match-ups, an increase from only 14 games above .500 last season.
The West found themselves getting better in this past offseason, with many star players either staying or joining teams out West. A quarter of the East’s All Star Team either left or was traded to the West (Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Paul Milsap,) and all the All-Stars from the West still remain in that part of the country except for Gordon Hayward, who joined the Celtics.
The last time the East won a head-to-head matchup was in 2008-09, and it does not seem that they will be beating the West anytime. Believe it or not, the East used to be the dominant conference back in the 1980’s and early 90’s, then both conferences became balanced in power until Michael Jordan retired for the second time. After his retirement, the West controlled the East, with the highest win-loss difference being in 2013-14, when the West won 118 more games.
In the past few years, most of the blame for the inequality of conferences can come from LeBron James. In the past 7 years, he led his team to the Finals each year, and won 3 championships in that span. Some teams in the East even gave up competing with James and the Cavs, which probably caused the Pacers and Bulls to trade their star players, and Paul Milsap to ditch the Hawks, and join a team in the West. It would not be surprising if he scared away other teams to enter rebuilding mode, especially after only losing one game in the process of reaching the Finals this past year.
What might make it difficult for the conferences to ever be neutral anytime soon is this new era of building a “super-team.” From the Bulls and Celtics in the mid 80’s-early 90’s, the Lakers and Spurs outplaying the competition in the 2000’s, and the Celtics and Heat’s “Big Three” trying to beat the West competition in the early 2010’s, teams are trying to rack up big names and stars on their teams to compete against the Warriors and Cavs. However, other than the Celtics, it seems that all the teams being formed are occurring in the West, as the Rockets, Thunder, Timberwolves, and Nuggets all acquired top players in the league.
If the NBA gets rid of conferences, it can possibly make the playoffs a lot more interesting. They can use a 16-team playoff bracket, and rank everyone according to their regular season record. This can help put more emphasis in winning regular-season games, which Adam Silver and the NBA have been trying to find a solution to make teams play their star players on national television. Even though the best 16 teams in the league in the past year made the actual playoffs, we have seen before teams in the West fail to make the playoffs despite having a much better record than East teams that made the playoffs. Instead of witnessing squad in the West battle for the 8th seed, we will get to see the best 16 teams in the entire league rather than the top 8 from each conference.
We do not exactly know how the season will turn out for both conferences, but if everyone’s predictions are right, than the East will struggle to compete with Western Conference teams. And the league should hope LeBron does not take his talents to the other half of the country, or else the Eastern Conference will become much more weaker than it already was.