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NBA

Dissecting the NBA's parity through one quarter of the 2019-20 season

For the past several years, the Western Conference has been significantly better than the Eastern Conference.

Yes, the Golden State Warriors' dynasty had a lot to do with that, but through-and-through, the rest of the West generally beat up on the East.

In fact, the Western Conference has won the head-to-head battle against the Eastern Conference in 19 of the last 20 NBA seasons.

This type of imbalance has led to some discussions of dismantling conferences, with some believing the playoffs should be made up of the 16-best records in the league, not the eight-best from either conference.

In seven of the last 10 seasons, the West would have more teams represented in the playoffs than the East if you took the 16-best records. Just once, in 2015-16, would the East have qualified more teams than the West.

Typically, you can tell how much more dominant the West has been by the difference in records of the No. 8 seed - the final team to qualify for the playoffs. Last season, the LA Clippers (48-34) finished seven games ahead of the Detroit Pistons (41-41) as the 8-seed in their respective conferences. The year before that, the Minnesota Timberwolves snuck into the playoffs with a 47-35 record compared to 43-39 for the Pistons.

But the league's parity began to emerge a bit last season in that if you were to take the top-16 records in the league, you would have had eight teams from each conference represented.

Through the unofficial first quarter of this year's NBA season, you're seeing the same trend. Here's what the standings would look like if you took the 16-best records in the NBA right now to shape the playoffs...

Seed Team Conference Record Winning pct.
T-1 Bucks East 20-3 .870
T-1 Lakers West 20-3 .870
3 Celtics East 16-5 .762
4 Heat East 16-6 .727
5 Mavericks West 15-6 .714
6 Raptors East 15-6 .714
7 Nuggets West 14-6 .700
8 LA Clippers West 16-7 .696
9 76ers East 15-7 .682
10 Rockets West 14-7 .667
11 Pacers East 14-8 .636
12 Jazz West 12-10 .545
13 Nets East 12-10 .545
14 Magic East 11-11 .500
15 Suns West 10-11 .476
16 Timberwolves West 10-11 .476

*All records before tip-off of games on Dec. 7.

The East and West nearly alternate every seed. And for what it's worth, the East is currently beating the West 59-58 in head-to-head record so far this season (h/t Reddit u/AsPeHeat).

When you look at the conferences individually, you can almost compare the teams and their tiers directly across this season - something that you haven't been able to do for a while.

The Lakers and Bucks are both dominating the league. The Celtics, Heat, Raptors and 76ers all belong in the same tier as teams like the Mavericks, Nuggets, Clippers and Rockets based off of performance early on this season.

The teams fighting for the last few spots - the Nets, Magic, Timberwolves and Suns - also belong in the same tier.

While it is still only one quarter through the season and there is plenty of time for this all to change, it appears that the gap between the East and the West is beginning to narrow.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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