Western Conference features historic number of playoff-race lurkers

AP Photo/Brandon Dill

The Mavericks – 14th in the Western Conference – have the same number of wins (19) as the Eastern Conference’s seventh-place Heat and same number of losses (22) as the Eastern Conference’s sixth-place Nets.

The 2018-19 season reached its halfway point last night, and the conference standings are taking firm shapes. As usual, the West is better than the East. But the areas of each conference that reveal the disparity are unique.

Here’s how each team’s win percentage in each conference compares to teams in the same place in the standings in prior 15-team conferences. The 2018-19 teams are shown by their logo. Prior teams are marked with a dot. Columns are sorted by place within a conference, 1-15. After the graphics, 2018-19 teams are compared to the worst, average and best teams ever to finish in each place, 1-15.

Eastern Conference



Western Conference



The strength of this Western Conference comes near the bottom, in the 10-14 range.

The Kings (20-21) are on pace to be one of the best 10th-place teams ever. The Timberwolves (20-21) are on pace to be the best 11th-place team ever. The Pelicans (20-22) are on pace to be the best 12th-place team ever. The Grizzlies (19-22) are on pace to be the best 13th-place team ever. The Mavericks (19-22) are on pace to be the best 14th-place team ever.

Teams currently in playoff position in the West can’t relax. Slip just a little, and several teams are close enough to pounce.

Meanwhile, the East has a couple of low-point ranges.

The Nets (21-22) are on pace to be the worst sixth-place team ever. The Heat (19-20) are on pace to be one of the worst seventh-place teams ever.

The first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs could have a few duds, though at least the 4-5 matchup should feature a pair of worthy teams.

The Hawks (12-29) are on pace to be one of the worst 12th-place teams ever. The Bulls (10-31) are on pace to be the worst 13th-place team ever.

I’m unconvinced the new lottery rules have adequately curbed tanking. Plenty of Eastern Conference teams are competing – hard – for those bottom slots.