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Difference Between Eastern and Western Conference Basketball

The battle of the East versus Western Conference in the NBA. Is it really a battle? Only once during the playoffs, they play against each other and that’s in the finals. But what other differences are there between the two conferences and why is it important to the NBA to have two Conferences?

For years the West has been known for being the much stronger and more competitive Conference than the East, in fact in the last 20 years, the West teams have won 13 out of 20 NBA Championships. But believe it or not, in the last 40 years it is actually relatively balanced when it comes to East teams Vs West teams winning the NBA Championship.

Do you think the divisions and Conferences are pointless in the NBA? Why not just have the best 16 teams make the NBA? Let’s take a look at how the NBA system works and if it really matters to divide up the teams.

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Difference between eastern and Western Conference basketball

Geographical Map

The major differences between the two conferences are the geographical region they fall under in the United States, and yes there is one team in Canada, the Toronto Raptors.

The teams are divided by the Eastern region of the US and the Western region. A line is literally drawn down the middle of the US and an equal number of teams, in both Conferences.

I am sure you can figure it out but on the left side o the line is the Western Conference teams and on the right is the Eastern Conference teams.


Number of Teams

The number of teams is evenly distributed with 15 teams in each conference.

Sometimes a team will be sold and will move to a different city that is not in the same geographical region, which will result in the reorganizing of teams to create a balance of 15 teams in each conference.

This also balances out the divisions which we will get to in a second.

The reason it is important for the NBA to balance out an equal number of teams in each conference is to have an equal play and opportunity for every team to make the playoffs.

For example, if there were 14 teams in the East and 16 teams in the West then that would mean the west would have 8 teams not qualifying for playoffs while the East would have only 6 teams that didn’t make the postseason. 

This makes it much harder for the West teams to make it into the postseason with more teams in their conference. More teams make it harder, fewer teams make it easier.

Eastern Conference Teams & Divisions

If we take a look at the Divisions in each Conference we see that each Division has 5 teams. With 3 Divisions in each Conference with 5 teams in each Division, you have 15 teams, multiply that by two Conferences is 30 teams.

Western Conference Teams & Divisions

How many times does a team play in their own Conference?

Each team will play an opposing team in their own Conference roughly 3 to 4 times during the season.

How many games does each team play in their division?

In each division there are 4 other teams to play, an NBA team will play each team in their division 4 times during the regular season. This equates to 16 games total, 4 teams multiply 4 games.

How many times does each team play in the opposite Conference?

Because there are 15 teams in a Conference, a team will play two games versus every team in one away game and one home game.

How many times does a team play at home and away?

A team plays 41 times at home and 41 times in away games. Each team plays the same equal amount of games as any other team. Equal play is important.

Which Conference is better Eastern or Western?

This will be a matter of opinion, but some facts to get us started. The five biggest markets in the NBA are as follows:

 City  Teams  Viewers
1 – New York City Knicks, Nets  7 million
2 – Los Angeles Lakers Clippers 5 million
3 – Chicago  Bulls 3.25 million
4 – Philadelphia  76ers 2.7 million
5 –  Dallas Mavericks 2.5 million

Why does this matter? Well in theory the team with the bigger market is the team ideal for an NBA Superstar. From the team’s high salary cap compared to other teams, the opportunity for endorsements and TV exposure.

NBA players know this, every player would like to play for a big market team, as if they are a good player they get the exposure if they do well and their stock as a player does well.

HUH? Superstar players matter when it comes to winning a championship. They also matter if there are more superstar players in one Conference over the other making that Conference much more competitive.

Now the reality? You can see that 4 out of the 7 teams are from the Eastern Conference and if we take a look at the last 20 years as to which team won the NBA Championship you will see that the Western Conference has won it all 13 times out of 20 when compared ot the East.

Now most players who enter the league whether they are drafted or sign with a team rarely make the decision by choice to join a Conference because it’s good or bad.

Although the Eastern Conference has been the weaker Conference for a very long time and being in the Eastern Conference is an easier road to the NBA Finals than playing in the Western Conference.

Lebron James is a classic example of making the NBA Finals through the East 8 times. Some may argue that it’s Lebron James he’s the greatest player of all time and that’s why.

But realistically no player should be taking a team of a bunch of nobodies to the Finals.

This happened in the 2006/07 season. Basketball is not played this way, no matter what you think to further prove my point, no team should, in my opinion, make the playoffs with a losing record or a 500 record.

3 teams did just that which showed how poor the East was that year in the same year Lebron James took his nobodies to the Finals. That says a lot about a Conference if you ask me.


Then we take a look at the 2014/15 season and something happened that has never happened before 7 teams in the Western Conference had 50 wins or more.

This is incredible, in fact, the eight-place team Dallas Mavericks had 49 wins. You can’t tell me that this Conference is not harder to make the NBA Finals than the East considering that they have to play more game in there Conference and Division against these harder teams.

The West has been dominant for many years and it has only been in recent times that it is starting to balance out between the two conferences.

NBA Champions the Last 20 years


An interesting stat, in the last 23 seasons the teams in the West have had more season wins combined than the teams in the East.

But still only winning 13 championships out of 20. It might be safe to try and get into the Finals by going through the East when the West has a much tougher road in the playoffs playing teams that are no easy victories.

Why is there an Eastern and Western Conference? 

As a huge NBA fan, I was hoping that the NBA would do away with divisions and conferences, I have been watching the NBA for years and I still can’t remember all the divisions.

Traveling would be a big concern if there were no structure. Playing without divisions and conference, you would be definitely traveling a lot more. As you would be traveling all across the US to play games with no rhyme or reason. Jet lag is a real thing and can affect players differently.

There would be the need to have more days of rest, stretching the season out, or cutting down the number of games.

The conferences are supposed to add balance and fair play but really doesn’t as time and time there is always one conference that seems much strong than the other with better teams.

Should the NBA get rid of the Conferences?

In theory YES, but in reality NO. Let me explain!

In theory, it would make sense to have the best 16 teams in the playoffs and have some play in games as they do no. But this would result in more teams from one Conference having fewer teams than another but I think that’s ok.

You want the best competition in the playoffs playing against each other anyways, don’t you?

Now for the reality, if this was the case you would have players more than ever teaming up and completely loop siding the NBA to a couple of powerhouse teams that would always be in the finals.

This happens a lot in European Soccer, 20 teams in the Spanish League 3 teams are powerhouses that steamroll over the competition, the same two teams win it every year. Feels like it…

Here’s why it doesn’t matter, every year in the NBA the number 1 team or number 2 team in either conference almost always wins the NBA Championship.

In the last 10 years, only one time wasn’t the case with the Golden State Warriors who were in 4th in the West that won it. That was Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s first Championship.