A couple months back I looked at the historic differences in quality between the Eastern and Western Conferences. Two months later, the data for this season is still spot-on: in aggregate, the Western Conference is much better than the East. Given the supremacy of of the Western Conference, and the wonderful battles to make it into the playoffs we have seen in years past, it is understandable to be excited for much of the same. Hell, the Rockets have had a winning record for each of the last three seasons, yet have missed out on the playoffs each time. But not this year.
No, this year instead of a bruising contest to enter the playoff octagon we are witnessing an epic Sisyphean to merely make it there. Last night’s one point home win over the listless, depressing Sacramento Kings may not have inspired much confidence in Warriors fans, but it may well have been the best played game of any of the four teams scrapping for the final three Western Conference playoff spots. The Lakers required a 25 point collapse from the lottery bound Hornets to escape with a win, while neither the Rockets playing the Mavericks or the Jazz playing the Cavaliers could dispatch their lowly foes. All four playoff hopefuls played teams that have been lottery-bound for months, yet a 36% shooting, 17 turnover mess of a game may have been the best performance. Oy vey.
According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds calculator, the Jazz are likely to edge out the Lakers for the final playoff spot with a 42–40 record, while the Warriors and Rockets are “safely” in. Over the last five years it has taken an average of 48 wins to make it in, and the 2007–08 Warriors didn’t even make it in with that. This season is a race to the bottom however, where 43 wins will be enough and the Western Conference 8th seed won’t be much better, if at all, than its Eastern Conference counterpart. No matter who the last team out is though, one thing is clear: they will only have themselves to blame.