The NBA has long split its teams up into conferences and divisions. This has been in place for so long that people have grown to get used to this conference-based system. However, sometimes it isn’t entirely clear.
How Does the NBA Conference System Work? There are currently 30 teams in the NBA, split equally into East and Western conferences. Each of these conferences has 15 teams in total. Among each conference are three divisions filled with five teams apiece. The playoff bracket is also split up into each conference, meaning that a team in the East can’t play a team in the West until they make the NBA Finals. However, teams can play against teams in other conferences during the regular season. Typically teams will play Division Rivals 4 times, Conference Rivals 3 times and teams from the opposite conference twice to fill out the bulk of their 82 game regular season schedule.
The conferences play a major role in how the NBA creates schedules every season. It helps them determine the correct number of times that a team will play against another and keeps the playoffs more organized.
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Why Did the League Introduce Conferences?
There were a couple of reasons as to why the league decided to split the league up into multiple conferences. First of all, there were some concerns regarding the playoff bracket if all teams were sharing one side. It wasn’t a major concern, but when conferences were introduced, few knew how this type of change would work regarding the postseason at the time. Some people were upset about the addition of conferences. They felt that weaker teams would get into the postseason more often if their conference is weak, making the league as a whole unfair. The league understood that this situation could arise every once in a while, and they implemented the rule of conferences anyway. We have seen the Eastern Conference look far worse than the Western Conference in recent memory, but these things usually even themselves out at some point. On top of all that, the NBA thought that adding conferences would be crucial in lowering travel time for teams, something even more prescient in modern times as we face climate into change. The teams that play in the Eastern Conference would go up against teams in the same conference more than they would team in the opposite conference. Instead of having to travel across the country many times, teams could stay closer to their home arena by playing conference opponents more often than not.
Has the League Thought About Removing Conferences?
The answer to this question is yes. There have been times that Adam Silver and the rest of the league officials have talked about taking away conferences. However, the thought hasn’t been acted on at all in the last couple of years and likely won’t be changed anytime soon. The fans were demanding that the conferences at least be removed due to the playoff seeding. This was because the East was having teams with losing records make the playoffs while the West was seeing 45+ win teams get eliminated from contention. There are a few reasons why removing conferences would be a bad idea. First off is travel. We talked about this earlier but it is probably the biggest reason that the league is still holding onto the two-conference rule. The next is playoff matchups. It makes sense that the best 16 teams in the league compete for the championship, but the playoff matchups would seem less attractive than expected. For example, we could have seen LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers take on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the second round. Now, that clearly wouldn’t be as entertaining as watching it in the NBA Finals. Plus, the fans that complain about the league fail to think about this rule, without looking at the bigger picture. Conferences change power pretty often in the league. The West won’t be the better conference for the rest of NBA history, which means that changing this rule to make things fair wouldn’t work if the East turns around and becomes better in a few years. You also don’t want to see 11 out of 16 playoff teams represent just one conference. Where is the fun in that? Bottom line, there isn’t expected to be any changes shortly.
Which NBA Conference Has Been Historically Better?
The league had multiple divisions back in the year 1950, but conferences didn’t exist until the 1970 season. From 1970 onwards, the Western Conference has been historically better. They have won 27 championships since the implementation of conferences, with the Los Angeles Lakers to thank for most. Los Angeles has won 12 of those titles, while the San Antonio Spurs add 5 and the Golden State Warriors add four more. On the other side of the NBA, the Eastern Conference sits right behind them with 24 titles won since that 1970 season. The Boston Celtics have been the best team with six titles, though the Chicago Bulls have six themselves due to the incredible play of Michael Jordan. The Detroit Pistons and the Miami Heat are also tied for three each. Throughout the last two years, we have seen a team from each conference hoist the trophy. In 2019-2020 it was the Lakers that won in the NBA Bubble for the West. The following year, it was the Milwaukee Bucks that won it all for the East. This heated conference battle is likely to continue forward for many years to come. There isn’t likely to be one side that completely dominates the league and wins multiple championships in a row unless a dynasty breaks out as we most recently saw with the Bulls, Lakers and the Warriors. However, the league has so much talent spread across the league that nobody looks like undisputed champions consistently anymore. So, rest assured, the league is in very good hands and the conferences are going to remain in place to keep everything as competitive as possible.