The Eastern Conference has a total of three teams above .500 this season -- and one of those keeps flirting with a losing record. It's gotten so bad that while there are no teams in the Atlantic Division above .500 -- yet there are two Atlantic teams currently in the top eight in the conference and positioned for the playoffs. That's the irony of the disastrously bad Atlantic -- the East as a whole is so bad that it self corrects the problem. Imagine if the Atlantic were this bad, but there were actually eight good teams out there? There's little worry that the Atlantic champ will use their automatic berth to 'steal' a playoff spot from a more deserving team in the East, because there aren't more deserving teams.
And yet the Los Angeles Clippers, by most measures a very good team in the very powerful Western Conference, has been unable to make headway against the East. Just take a look at this table of all the West teams currently .500 or better:
|Team||vs. West||vs. East|
Of the top 10 teams in the West, none of them has more than two losses against Eastern Conference teams -- except the Clippers, who have freakin' six! The East-heavy schedule the Clippers have played so far, with a dozen games against the little brother, has been a curse instead of a blessing. The Blazers and Thunder are undefeated against the East, the Spurs are 9-1. Look no further than the Clippers' lack of success East of the Mississippi for why they aren't at the top of the standings right now.
It should be noted that the five toughest games against Eastern Conference teams this season are likely to be both Miami games, both Indy games, and at Atlanta -- the Clippers have already played (and lost) three of those. Which means that they don't have to play those games among their final 20 East foes. It doesn't explain or excuse losses in Brooklyn, Cleveland and Orlando, but at least three of the losses were in tough games.
If the record against the East is the bad news, the record against the West is the very, very good news. At 11-3, no West team has a better record against the Western Conference the Clippers. (Miami has a better winning percentage at 5-0, but that's a small sample size of four of those games came at home.) When you zero in on the best teams, it gets even more impressive.
w/ last night's win over SAS, the Clippers are 5-1 against the other 8 West teams over .500: pic.twitter.com/o1zcnwkyM0— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) December 17, 2013
This isn't just a curiosity, a quirk that makes for interesting chatter. It turns out, the playoffs are arranged by conference -- so being able to beat the teams in your own conference is super important in the postseason. After all, to win a title the Clippers would have to beat three Western Conference teams and only one from the East. None of it will be easy by any means, but playing well against the Best in the West is a good place to start.
The Clippers were justifiably taken to task late last season for their lack of success against the best teams. Will they be given credit this season? We'll see. It's worth noting also that the team started strong against the tough teams early last year, but faded later. Wins against San Antonio and Oklahoma City will be much more important in February and April -- and December wins will rightly be forgotten in the aftermath of late season losses -- even 16 straight December wins. So while the strong record against good West teams is very encouraging now, it won't mean anything if they don't sustain it.
The Clippers have several more chances to improve their record against the top teams in the West in the coming days, with their next seven games coming against West foes, including six against the top 11. If the Clippers still have the best record against the West on New Year's Day, they'll really be onto something.