Conference Divide Skews Records V Rankings

Mar 16, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is defended by Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes (00) during the first quarter at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers finished with a 33-49 record (0.402) in the 2012-2013 season. This is likely going to change a lot for the coming year. Considering that the Blazers were fringe playoff contenders until a slew of injuries led them on a 13 game losing streak at the end of last season, their newfound depth should equip them for a more substantial run.

Problem: The Western Conference is tighter than pre-Weight Watcher Barkley’s waistband this year. While several teams got a lot better (Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Pelicans, Mavericks), very few got notably worse (Lakers, Nuggets). The teams that were already on top have hardly changed at all. This leaves Portland in a bit of a pickle, albeit more manageable than last season’s.

Would you like to know something interesting? Of course you would! You’re reading about the Blazers aren’t you? Despite Portland’s losing season, they finished with a 0.500 record exactly against every division in the Eastern Conference. I’m sorry, what? The East is supposed to be weak, but still, that was a little unexpected.

Atlantic Division

Opponent Win(s) Loss(es) Record
Knicks 2 0 1.000
Nets 0 2 0.000
Celtics 1 1 0.500
76ers 1 1 0.500
Raptors 1 1 0.500

(Overall win percentage: 0.500)

Central Division

Opponent Win(s) Loss(es) Record
Pacers 1 1 0.500
Bulls 2 0 1.000
Bucks 0 2 0.000
Pistons 1 1 0.500
Cleveland 1 1 0.500

(Overall win percentage: 0.500)

Southeast Division

Opponent Win(s) Loss(es) Record
Heat 1 1 0.500
Hawks 1 1 0.500
Wizards 0 2 0.000
Bobcats 2 0 1.000
Magic 1 1 0.500

(Overall win percentage: 0.500)

Northwest Division

Opponent Win(s) Loss(es) Record
Thunder 0 4 0.000
Nuggets 1 3 0.250
Jazz 1 3 0.250
Timberwolves 4 0 1.000

(Overall win percentage: 0.375)

Pacific Division

Opponent Win(s) Loss(es) Record
Clippers 1 3 0.250
Warriors 0 3 0.000
Lakers 1 3 0.250
Kings 2 2 0.500
Suns 1 2 0.333

(Overall win percentage: 0.278)

Southwest Division

Opponent Win(s) Loss(es) Record
Spurs 2 1 0.667
Grizzlies 1 3 0.250
Rockets 2 2 0.500
Mavericks 1 3 0.250
Hornets 1 2 0.333

(Overall win percentage: 0.389)

In the Western Conference, Portland finished below 0.350, with 18 wins in 52 games. Now consider this; if the Blazers have gained as much offseason ground as it would appear, they should be able to finish the 2013-2014 season with even more impressive numbers against Eastern Conference teams. A few have made substantial improvements (Pistons, Nets, Cavaliers), but just as many have slipped (Celtics, 76ers, Bucks). The talent is a lot thinner on the distant coast.

Apr 23, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings (right) talks with teammate point guard Monta Ellis (left) in the second half during game two in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 98-86. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, other Western Conference teams should be able to take similar advantage. The 2013 Eastern Conference 8th seed (Milwaukee Bucks) snuck into the playoffs with a paltry 0.463 win percentage, while the Western Conference 8th seed (Houston Rockets) tied the Lakers with 0.549. That nearly 9% difference is expected to widen even more next season, in one of the most awkwardly lopsided conference deficiencies in recent NBA history.

The point in all this, is that while the Blazers may go as high as 48-34 (an almost 20% increase in win percentage from the 2012-2013 season), it still might not be enough to make the playoffs. Though their projected record may be inflated, their standing in the West remains mediocre. Bear in mind, this is analysis of what is likely to be, not what is set in stone, so don’t let my voodoo magic dampen your spirits.

Despite what I just said, I will claim this next point as a FACT: If NBA teams faced teams from the opposing conference as many times as they faced those from their own in the 2013-2014 season, with no geographical weight to determine playoff seeding, the Western Conference makes up nearly 70% of the NBA playoffs. The Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Nets, and Knicks remain; everyone else comes from the West.

Of course, that scenario would never unfold for a number of reasons, but it does illustrate just how much of a raw deal the Blazers are looking at right now. They will probably wipe the floor with Eastern Conference mediocrity this year, but in the end may find themselves watching the playoffs from home, once again. I would like to say that the Blazers’ considerable depth will be enough to take them to the top, but sometimes talent trumps, and the West is loaded.

Yet, the fun part remains. I can tell you what will and won’t happen until I am blue in the face, but you know what? Just like EVERY SINGLE PROJECTION, there is considerable room for error. The NBA is unpredictable. Some players step up like crazy (Jrue Holiday, Paul George), some fade into the woodwork (Kris Humphries, Marcin Gortat), and some miss considerable time due to injury (enough names to fill out the rest of this article).

Apr 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) leaves the court after being ejected with two technical fouls against the San Antonio Spurs in game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

For years to come, the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers will be brought up as one of the league’s most colossal failures when it comes to matching expectations. Who’s to say that can’t happen to someone else? Chemistry is key, but so often overlooked in team building. With all the restructuring the West has seen, there may be surprises yet.

So here’s what I’d like you to do; heed my words, but take them with a grain of salt. The Blazers’ team will improve, their overall record will improve, but their potential playoff standings may not. This is all based on how I am reading the current NBA landscape, but everyone’s map is a little different. The one consistency you will find is flimsier paper on the Eastern side. It’s up to Portland to forge a new path in the West.

Topics: Portland Trail Blazers, Projection

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