The East-West imbalance in the NBA continues unabated


The Utah Jazz missed the playoffs with a 43-39 record. The Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs with a 38-44 record. This is not rare. This remains a problem.

At some point, things have to change: by force or by dumb luck. But it remains far more difficult to make the NBA playoffs out of the West than out of the East. A decade after the trend began.

The Bucks are in with a 38-44 record -- they actually clinched long ago. The Jazz lost on the final night of the season to eliminate themselves with a 43-39 record. Utah really can only blame itself -- it had a bad stretch following the trade deadline and couldn't finish the job.

But on behalf of the Jazz, we can blame the strange, long-lasting imbalance between the conferences.

This marks the eighth season in the past 10 in which the No. 9 team in the West has a better record than the No. 8 team in the East. In one of the two other seasons, the teams finished with identical records. In the other (last season), the West No. 9 finished one game behind the East No. 8. In most years, the imbalance is similar to the one we see this season. In some cases, it's far wider, the gold standard coming in 2007-08 when the 48-win Warriors missed the playoffs but the 37-win Hawks made it. (Those Hawks also took the eventual champs to seven games, so, you know.)

I've long advocated for a 16-team bracket that ignores conference. The Jazz would be in, and either the Celtics or Mavericks would be the No. 16 seed facing the Heat. You'd get some strange pairings in the opening round, but you'd be sure to have the league's best teams in the bracket. I can't imagine one person outside of Milwaukee -- and perhaps not even anyone in Milwaukee -- who prefers to see the Heat run the Bucks out of the postseason instead of squeezing the Jazz in.

It's highly unlikely to happen, so we'll just have to wait for this seemingly unending imbalance to end. In the meantime, good teams in the West will suffer because of geography.

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