We got started on this story when someone on CBS reporter Matt Moore’s twitter feed had a hard time believing that the Houston Rockets didn’t have one of the NBA’s toughest schedules so far. After all, Houston plays in the NBA West, which is far better than the East, right?
Well, we’ve been mythbusting that one for a few weeks; the East and West are roughly even in the won-loss column. There is, however, even more to the story.
Given the way the NBA schedule works, yes, you play more games within your conference than against the other. But you also play a more games per opponent within your division. Which led us to wonder, how are the divisions stacking up?
NBA standings by division
(Indeed, two of the top three divisions are in the East. It also includes the worst, the NBA Southeast.)
So what is going on? We put the chart up above so you can draw your own conclusions, but here are some of our tentative observations.
1. Regarding the Atlantic: well, Toronto still has a solid top-8 roster. Given their playoff collapses it’s anyone’s guess if this proves true in April and May. Porzingas is emerging as a top big man for the Knicks, and Embid and Simmons are playing, and well, for the 76ers. The Nets, as we warned in the last month of last season, are well-coached, young, fun to watch, and improving fast. Meanwhile, the Celtics have shocked the world winning 23 of 26 since overcoming the initial 30-hour shock of Gordon Hayward’s injury.
When not playing against another team from the Atlantic, the Nets are 10-13, and the 76ers are 13-10.
OKC and Cleveland
2. Oklahoma City, our preseason pick to finish 4th in the West, may not be as bad as people think. Especially given that they’re actually playing defense; have figured out how to win at home; and have survived Russell Westbrook’s worst statistical start in years. They’re just in a tough division right now. Minnesota, Portland, and Denver added major pieces, and Utah just keeps being Utah. OKC is 2-5 in their division, a more respectable 10-8 outside.
3. The Cavaliers and LeBron James not only don’t have the “cakewalk” in the East some have suggested — suddenly the NBA Central is the second-toughest in the NBA. Okay, it’s not by much over the NBA Northwest and Southwest, but still. Despite their streak, the Cavs are only 3 games up on the Bucks and Pacers.
Once by the Pacific…
4. Blake Griffin’s injury hit just before the Clippers made an east coast road trip. So, pump the brakes just a tad on how bad the NBA Pacific is. Sadly for Celtics fans, the woeful state of the Pacific may help the Lakers out of one of the lowest 3-5 spots in the league… possibly even the lottery.
5. And, closing the loop back to Houston: Less our defensive twitter friend take offense, the way the Rockets are playing, it doesn’t look like it would make much difference what division they’re in. They’re 3-2 within the Southwest, 17-2 outside of it. But unless we miss our guess, Dallas is not as bad as their record (please don’t @ us, Bill), and Memphis won’t be. And then there are the Spurs, 19-8 without one of the best two-way players in basketball.
If all that’s true, Houston’s schedule will look a lot tougher in a month or two. Then again, the division could look a lot more like the standings in the NBA Northwest… with OKC, at 12-13, in last place (for now.)