The Cleveland Cavaliers lost more games in January than they did during the first three months of the season. The defending champs were even trolled by the Sacramento Kings two weeks ago after another dismal performance.
Yes, it’s been that bad.
LeBron James — a four-time NBA MVP and 12-time All-Star — even voiced his displeasure publicly. Some reports even have “The King” pushing management to make some moves before the NBA’s trade deadline (Feb. 23).
Lately taken L's, but very soon we'll bounce back
Boy, frustrating as hell, I know my team we'll bounce back
If you a real one…..
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 24, 2017
I not mad or upset at management cause Griff and staff have done a great job, I just feel we still need to improve in order to repeat…
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 24, 2017
While every team goes through a slump during the year, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see the defending champs going down against Western Conference teams.
West vs. East
The NBA has an imbalance problem and it’s rather obvious.
The West reigns supreme and is stacked with talent. Guys such as Chris Paul, Rudy Gobert, Damian Lillard, Karl-Anthony Towns and LaMarcus Aldridge were even left off the 2017 All-Star team which goes to show just how deep the conference is. Add the fact that when players make their way over into the Eastern Conference, many of them end up making their first All-Star appearances (i.e Paul Millsap, Isaiah Thomas, etc.).
Welcome to the talent gap.
Last year, and for the 16th time in the last 17 seasons, the West was better than the East.
In head-to-head competition, the West posted a 232-218 overall record against the East during the regular season last year. This, of course, was a lot closer than in previous years in which the West topped the East by 76 games (263-187). Then in the 2013-14 season, the West set a record by winning 118 more games (284-166) during interleague play. The table below outlines the this over the years.
|Season||Conference||Regular season||NBA Champion|
|2015-16||West||+14||Cleveland Cavaliers (East)|
|2014-15||West||+76||Golden State (West)|
|2013-14||West||+118||San Antonio (West)|
|2009-10||West||+42||LA Lakers (West)|
|2008-09||East||+12||LA Lakers (West)|
|2006-07||West||+64||San Antonio (West)|
|2004-05||West||+62||San Antonio (West)|
|2002-03||West||+80||San Antonio (West)|
|2001-02||West||+44||LA Lakers (West)|
|2000-01||West||+98||LA Lakers (West)|
|1999-00||West||+34||LA Lakers (West)|
While the West has dominated the East in head-to-head meetings during the regular season over last 17-plus years, the West holds just an 11-6 advantage during this time frame with the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Boston and the Cleveland Cavaliers all taking home NBA titles for the East.
Interestingly enough, the last five teams from the East to have played in the NBA Finals have been led by “King” James. It’s basically been LeBron against the West for half a decade now and looks to continue with the East struggling once again.
Don’t get me wrong, LeBron is a special player and is arguably one of the top players to ever play the game. But he’s also had an easy route to get to the NBA Finals. A couple of years ago, the East had two teams make the playoffs (Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics) despite both having losing records and this year looks like we’ll have another repeat performance with Chicago and Detriot trying to hold off Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Miami for the last two playoff spots.
And because of the talent gap between the two conferences, LeBron, who does a good job at stacking his team together, is well rested by the time the NBA Finals roll around.
Last year, the Cavs swept both the Pistons and Hawks during the first two rounds of the playoffs. In the conference championship game, the Cavs actually got some competition before taking down the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 to take the series 4-2 and advance to the NBA Finals.
Meanwhile, Golden State, which set an NBA record for most victories (73) in a regular season that same year, had to face Portland and Houston during the first two rounds. The Warriors won of course, but the series went to five games against the Trailblazers and the Rockets. Then in the conference title game, the Warriors needed all seven games to get past the Oklahoma City, and even needed to rally from a 3-1 deficit to reach the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.
And while the Warriors were scratching and clawing their way to a Game 7 win, the Cavs sat back and watched the Thunder and Warriors each take turns trying to knock each other out.
Cleveland’s record against the East this year is 23-6, but just 12-9 against the West. To put those records into perspective, the Cavs are on a path to go 42-10 in the East and just 17-13 against the West with the current NBA schedule which has teams play 16 division games, 30 interleague games, and 52 conference games.
If the Cavs played in the Western Conference, they would sport a 29-23 conference record based on their current play this year which is a 13-game difference compared to what they are on track to do in the East.
And based on current projections, that would put the Cavs on a path to win 53 games this season and would put the defending champs just ahead of the Utah Jazz — by one game — as the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs behind No. 3 Houston, No. 2 San Antonio, and No. 1 Golden State. Most importantly, the Cavs wouldn’t have home court advantage throughout the playoffs, something it has greatly benefited from in the East.
Let’s not forget either that LeBron has played in the NBA Finals seven times, yet has just a 3-4 against the West. Looking at the NBA MVP’s over the years, the West has had 11 players chosen compared to just six for the East — of which James has been responsible for four of those awards.
And once again, this year is shaping up to be another banner year for the West with Russell Westbrook — who is averaging a mind-boggling triple-double this year — and James Harden leading the way as the frontrunners for the award. Don’t forget either about Golden State’s Steph Curry and Kevin Durant who have combined to win the last three MVP titles.
Since being drafted out of high school in 2003, LeBron has put up spectacular numbers, but you can’t ignore the fact that he’s also had an easier route playing in the Eastern Conference. Don’t get me wrong, LeBron is a phenomenal athlete and one of the greatest players to ever play the game, but there is no denying that he’s benefited from playing in the lowly East.