By: Michael Walker (Follow on Twitter @Mike_WalkerIC)
The NBA is approximately one third through its 2018-2019 season – and since this comes up every year – I figured I would get out ahead of the noise and check up on which conference has the right to claim supremacy so far.
With so much talent migrating to the Western Conference over the years, it is easy to think they should have the clear advantage. Just this offseason, LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers after representing the Eastern Conference in eight consecutive NBA Finals while playing on the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Looking back further, the West has bested the East in head-to-head play in every season, save one, since the 1998-1999 season. That only exception is the 2008-2009 season, and the Lakers won the title that year.
However, there is still plenty of reason for optimism in the East with Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler coming over from the West – solidifying a dangerous group of teams at the top of their new conference. They join Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Victor Oladipo as legitimate stars to be reckoned with in the East.
To start this comparison, the overall record between the conferences favors the West, as its teams have totaled 92 wins and only 64 losses when playing against squads from the East. That comes out to about a .59 winning percentage, and a clear leg up for the West. Just looking at these numbers, a simple conclusion could be reached that the East is no match for the West.
This just means we need to investigate further.
The current top 4 teams in the East – the Raptors, Bucks, 76ers, and Pacers – have a combined 28-16 record against the West. On the flip side, the current top 4 teams in the West – the Nuggets, Warriors, Thunder, and Lakers – have a combined 32-14 record against the East. Although the West still has the slight advantage in this regard, posting a winning percentage of about .70 versus the East’s approximate .64 winning percentage, it is clear that best teams in each conference are closer in quality than those below them in the standings.
The real interesting find in all of this is when we look at the results of games played exclusively between the top 4 teams in each conference. While it is a small sample size, the cream of the crop in the East has won six of their nine matchups (nice) against their counterparts in the West. This shows that the main difference between each conference is their depth, and not their top tier teams. This will be something to monitor closely as the season goes along, as we all know things can change in an instant in the NBA.
The two teams with the best record in their respective conferences go head to head Sunday night. The result of the Raptors and Nuggets matchup will add another piece of the puzzle to prove which conference reigns supreme this season.
(All stats through Saturday, December 15th, and via Basketball-Reference)