NBA Western Conference Much Tougher to get to Finals than the East

After seeing the San Antonio Spurs lose to the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in a round one matchup, it confirmed what most NBA observers already know- the western conference is hands down a stronger overall conference than the east. That is not to say a team from the east will not win the NBA finals,

Eight strong teams made the western conference playoffs where only five eastern conference teams are considered solid contenders.

To refresh everyone’s memories, here are the first round western conference matchups. Top seed Golden St. defeated the New Orleans Pelicans  4games to 1. The second-seeded Houston Rockets defeated the number seven Dallas Mavericks 4 games to 1 as well. Despite being a seven seed, the Mavericks only had six less regular season victories than the Rockets. The Clippers were a three seed in knocking off the six-seeded San Antonio Spurs who had only one less regular season victory than the best NBA franchise in LA these days. Just don’t tell that to Jack Nicholson. Finally, the five seeded Memphis Grizzlies defeated the four seed Portland Trail Blazers 4 games to one. The Grizzlies were a five seed despite having four less regular season victories than Portland. Throw in the Oklahoma City Thunder who missed the playoffs this year due to a rash of injuries to key players and you have nine teams that can all contend in the western conference when their teams are healthy.

The eastern conference is a much different story. The Atlanta Hawks were the top seed and defeated the number 8 Brooklyn Nets 4 games to 2. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the second seed and swept the number seven Boston Celtics. After winning the first three games in dominating fashion, the third seeded Chicago Bulls lost two in a row to the sixth seeded Milwaukee Bucks before closing out the series in six games. The Washington Wizards, who came in as the five seed, swept the Toronto Raptors who had a strong season this year. The Nets, Celtics, and Bucks had absolutely no shot of winning their series and only made the playoffs because the east is so weak. Sure, the Indiana Pacers suffered without Paul George for most of the season and the Miami Heat were still adjusting to life without Lebron James, but the only first round matchup in question was the Wizards/Raptors series and nobody expected a sweep.

Now that I have reset the table with first round matchups, let’s go back to that Clippers/Spurs series. The Clippers and San Antonio Spurs tied for the third- and fifth-best records in the league, respectively, but still met in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. League rules that allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to hold onto the fourth seeding while bumping the Spurs to the sixth seeding despite the Spurs having a better record.

Both Spurs’ coach Greg Popovich and Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers expressed angst over the first round matchup.

Said Popovich:

“It seems odd that a team that wins 55 and a team that wins 56 end up playing in the first round. That’s a tough, tough West. Every year we beat ourselves up in the West to get over to the East for the Finals. This is a ridiculously tough first round, as everybody knows, but it’s been competitive, and I think fans enjoy it. I don’t know how [Clippers Coach] Doc and I enjoy it.”

Rivers also chimed in on the matchup after Chris Paul secured a close victory in game 7..

“With two minutes left, Tim Duncan comes up to me and says, ‘This is the first round’?”

While the Warriors remain the favorites, any team can make it to the finals out of the west. Whether they win it or not remains to be seen as the Western Conference representative could be worn out from tough matchups throughout the playoffs.

In defense of the east, it seems wide open this year as well which is different than in past seasons when maybe three teams in a given year were legitimate contenders to make it to the finals. The Wizards already are up 1-0 after defeating the Hawks on their own court. Lebron and Kyrie give the Cavaliers two of the game’s best players, but Cleveland will be without power forward Kevin Love who was injured on a controversial foul in the first round series against the Celtics. The Bulls, on the other hand, are extremely motivated to show Cleveland they are not the class of the east.

The NBA should take a serious look at the rule that enabled the Blazers to avoid having to play the Clippers in the first round. While the Grizzlies would have given the Spurs a run for their money, San Antonio would be getting ready to take on the Warriors in the second round.

And that’s as I see it!

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