Remember all the talk this summer about how drastically the Eastern Conference had improved?
In the words of Entourage's Jeremy Piven (as the incomparable Ari Gold), no-go, baby, no-go.
All you need to know about the Eastern Conference in a nutshell can be safely demonstrated through these tidbits of Marc Stein's report about yesterday's transaction made by the Charlotte Bobcats:
The Charlotte Bobcats, knowing they need an offensive boost to help them cope with a road-heavy schedule in the second half of the season, have signed 5-foot-5 free-agent guard Earl Boykins for the rest of the season.
"I think this is a team that has a chance to make the playoffs, and that's why I'm here," said Boykins, who indicated numerous teams expressed interest in signing him.
That's it. Right there. There goes the entire "Look how improved the Eastern Conference got all the way around" concept in a nutshell. Blown to bits. Smithereens, in fact.
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The Charlotte Bobcats legitimately believe they can make the playoffs this season.
They wouldn't have signed a 31-year-old point guard with no size who likes to put the ball up quite a bit if they didn't. There would have been no need to spend money to allow a veteran to take playing time that could better be used determining which players are and aren't in the future plans of this team if said team didn't have legitimate playoff ambitions.
At a game and a half out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, there isn't any reason why they couldn't be playing into late April, at least for a week or so.
At 18-28 and in a tie for eleventh place in the Eastern Conference, there is no shortage of reasons why the 'Cats most likely will be nowhere near deserving of a berth come playoff time. In fact, chances are, Atlanta, New Jersey (losers of 9 of 10), Indiana, Chicago, Philly and Milwaukee won't be either. Unless the Knicks make quite an unforeseen run, two of the aforementioned teams will play in at least one series in the second half of April.
The Eastern Conference has four really good teams -- Boston, Detroit, Orlando and Cleveland (whose record isn't any better than Toronto's primarily because the Cavs got off to a deceptively slow start). Three of those teams play basketball at a .600 clip or better. The East has decent teams in Toronto and Washington. That makes six. Which means that 60 percent of the Eastern Conference is legitimately bad.
On the other hand, seven Western Conference teams play .600 basketball. Ten have winning records. The top five teams are separated by a total of five games. The top ten teams are separated by a total of seven games.
Two of those teams won't make the playoffs. Just take a minute to think about this premise again in its purest form:
Atlanta, New Jersey, Indiana, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee: Two will make the playoffs.
New Orleans, Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio, Golden State, Denver, Utah, Houston, Portland and the Lakers: Two will be watching as your two selections above play on.
Yes, unlike in past seasons, there are multiple Eastern Conference teams with a legitimate shot to win a championship. That is a step in the right direction for the East.
But it doesn't change the fact that the disparity between the conferences may well be as great as ever.
Enjoy the race, 'Cats fans.