The Trail Blazers tallied their 5th win of the season last night, defeating the Detroit Pistons 109-103. This brings their record to an impressive 5-2. You would think that a .714 win percentage would be an inspiring start as the Blazers look to make the playoffs this year, but it’s not that simple. The following teams have tallied 5 or more wins, as of this very moment:
1. Indiana Pacers (8-0)
2. San Antonio Spurs (7-1)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-1)
4. Phoenix Suns (5-2)
5. Portland Trail Blazers (5-2)
6. Los Angeles Clippers (5-3)
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-3)
8. Houston Rockets (5-3)
Notice anything? The only team from the Eastern Conference on this list happens to be the only undefeated team in the NBA. Everyone else comes from the Western Conference. Now look more closely. Aside from last year’s conference champions, most teams from the West lie one loss ahead of or one loss behind the Trail Blazers by virtue of total games played.
If the Blazers lose their next game (against the Suns again) and the right teams win theirs, Portland can fall from 4th in the conference to a 3-way tie at 8th, despite a potential 5-3 record. Yet, in the Eastern Conference, no team has more than 4 wins (save the Pacers), regardless of rank. This should give you some idea of just how good the West is.
The Trail Blazers have more wins than almost every team in the East, but also have the misfortune of competing in the half of the NBA that is positively loaded. Examining these figures with the usual caveat of sample size, consider the following: The average win percentage in the East is .462, and the average win percentage in the West is .526. Not only is there a startling difference between the two, but the Trail Blazers are well above each average.
So how good is 5-2 really? I’ll take it over 2-5, but I advise you to contain your excitement for the time being. Having twice as many wins as losses means a lot less when your main competitors are right there with you; especially this early. Remember that the 8th seed in the West last year (Houston) finished with 7 more regular season wins than the 8th seed in the East (Milwaukee), and the conference gap has only gotten bigger.
Until the Western Conference tiers form (if they form), there is little cause for celebration. The Trail Blazers aren’t dwarfing anyone with early wins because the opponents that matter in the rankings have matched them every step of the way. It is a long road to the post-season, and the Blazers will have to maintain this level of excellence to complete the journey. At mile marker 1, the Western pack is still clustered.