There were signs before this season that maybe the Eastern Conference was catching up to the West.
Chicago had made ground and was boasting a young team on the rise…
Cleveland’s LeBron James gets better with every game…
Boston had added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and looked ready to challenge the best-of-the-West, and Detroit seemed energized by Boston’s mere presence.
Washington looked ready to take steps, and Toronto had a good young team ascending.
Dwight Howard looked ready to take Orlando to new heights, not seen since Shaq first departed.
Just prior to the All Star break reality tells a different tale: the East – other than two teams – vacillates between mediocre to dismal.
As it stands now, within LEast, there are only 5 teams above .500. FIVE TEAMS! That would mean that as it stands now, 3 teams make the playoffs after winning fewer than 50% of their games!
The gap from 1st (Boston Celtics) to 2nd (Detroit Pistons) is only 3 games, but 4th-placed (Cleveland Cavaliers) are a further 8.5 games behind 2nd. And the gap from 1st to 8th spot is huge – almost 19 games.
To be fair – just like in the West there’s a logjam at the lower spots – New Jersey currently holds the last playoff spot, with the anemic record of 22/29, but Philadelphia, Indiana, and even Chicago are right there in the mix only a game or two back.
However, the mere fact that Chicago are still in the playoff hunt is an indictment on the East. Their fans generally regard this season as a dismal failure. There are no teams below 5th place Toronto sporting a winning record, Washington recently falling below that mark.
Compare this to the Western Conference, where less than 5 games separate 1st to 9th.
Blink at the wrong time – and you could miss out on a playoff berth.
There are 10 teams above .500 in the West, and it’s still anyone’s game as to where teams will line up come playoffs. Even Portland – in 10th position – can make a grab at the playoffs… only 3 games off playoff-pace.
Only the Clippers, Memphis, Seattle & Minnesota don’t figure to be in the race at all.
In the East, the top few teams are virtually set in stone. Boston and Detroit will finish 1-2. Orlando really don’t have the personnel to trouble either, and Cleveland are in the same position. Toronto could pressure the Cavaliers for 4th spot tho’. Washington comes next, and despite falling below 50%, they’re a better quality unit than what lies below them, especially given that Arenas is yet to return. 6th-8th spots are a crap-shoot… And ‘crap’ is an apt adjective to apply to the teams that will end up stealing those spots.
Westwards lies a much more enthralling contest. It’s anyone’s conference to take. And questions over who will actually make up the final 8 run rampant…
Can New Orleans maintain the form that’s taken them to the top of the South West division?
Will San Antonio make their traditional post-All-Star break run?
Houston have won 7 straight – do they climb higher?
Will the Lakers continue the fairy-tale since stealing getting Pau Gasol? How strong will they be when Bynum returns?
How will Shaq impact the Suns, and will they have to radically re-tool their entire philosophy to fit him in?
Can Utah continue to improve?
Are Denver for real, can Portland get back in the mix?
Will the Webber-experiment pay dividends at Golden State, and does Dallas just stand pat whilst everyone around them busily improve rosters?
Loads of questions, and no answers readily available.
Post All-Star break, it’s going to be exciting…
At least in the West.