If you are new to the world of NBA Basketball, you very well may wonder why there is both an Eastern and Western Conference. The best teams from each conference play against each other just once during the playoffs before the final showdown battle of East vs West, leading some to question if some Western teams are losing out well-deserved spots in the playoffs to inferior Eastern teams. So, why is it so important for the NBA to have two conferences, what are the differences between them, and is this setup likely to change in the future?
When it comes to the statistics, there’s little doubt that the Western states play better basketball – their teams have long been known to be stronger than their Eastern counterparts. Betting revenues from online betting mirror the much more competitive field in the West too, and in fact, a team from the Eastern Conference has only won the NBA Championships seven times in the last two decades.
Differences Between Eastern & Western Conference Basketball
As the names imply, the major difference between each conference is the geographical locations of their teams. The line that separates the Eastern and Western conferences isn’t drawn directly down the middle of the United States, a direct result of the lower population density throughout the Midwest and Northwestern regions. As you would expect, the main population centers of New York and California both boast several teams each, and there is even one solitary Canadian team – the Toronto Raptors – based in the Eastern Conference.
Both conferences consist of fifteen teams at the start of each season, but the balance is not always easy to keep as teams are occasionally sold and moved from one city to another. When this happens, the line is redrawn to ensure that exactly fifteen teams remain on either side of the dividing line. It is vital that each conference has an equal number of teams, firstly to ensure that the divisions are also balanced, but also to ensure that an equal number of teams from each conference can participate in the playoffs.
Each conference is made up of three divisions, and each team will play an opposing team from their own conference roughly three to four times per season. Teams from opposing conferences only play each other twice per season, however – one home game and one away game. Whilst every team ends up playing a total of 41 games, every year there is a heated debate surrounding the fact that weaker Eastern Conference teams have an easier path to the playoffs than stronger Western Conference teams.
Is it Really True that the Western Conference is Better than the Eastern?
Let’s look at the five biggest betting markets in the NBA as a starting point; this is vital because the teams with the bigger markets are where the biggest superstar players want to play. They earn higher wages at these teams, receive far greater opportunities for endorsements and sponsorships, and greater television exposure:
1st New York City Knicks, Nets 7 Million Viewers
2nd Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers 5 million Viewers
3rd Chicago Bulls 3.25 million Viewers
4th Philadelphia 76ers 2.7 million Viewers
5th Dallas Mavericks 2.5 million Viewers
Whilst every NBA Superstar wants to play for the best teams, they also want to play for the winning teams, too. You might have noticed that of the seven teams listed above, four of them are from the Eastern Conference – so what is going on here? In short, whilst the Eastern Conference may be the weaker of the two, it is also a much easier road to the NBA Finals by playing for one of the top-tier Eastern Conference teams. This unfairly affects the signing prospects for Western Conference teams, who arguably deserve the first shot at the best players.
Current Odds in the Eastern and Western Conferences
The Golden State Warriors are currently priced in at -250 by leading online bookmaker Unibet, with their nearest rivals being the Dallas Mavericks at +195. The competitiveness of the basketball played on the courts this season has been mesmerizing for fans and made fantastic television, which is one of the main reasons why the debate has been reignited once more as to whether the conference system should be scrapped.
And how about the Eastern Conference? The games played on the other side of the league have been very different, and the Eastern finals are going to come down to a slugfest between two of the best defensive teams in the NBA. The Boston Celtics is currently priced at -175, whilst their nearest rivals, the Miami Heat, are currently set at +145.
Should the NBA Do Away with the Current Structure?
To change the status quo would mean a dramatic increase in traveling for every team, but that would not even be the biggest problem if the two conferences were to merge into a single NBA league. It is highly likely in such a scenario that the NBA would soon become dominated by just a handful of super-dominant teams. The current structure allows for wildcard matches to take place that simply wouldn’t be possible without the playoffs and the East vs West dynamic. For the time being, it seems the East vs West is here to stay.