The NBA regular season finished with the Lakers just one game behind the Cavs for league’s best record. But Sunday night saw the Lakers run away with the game and the NBA championship…against not the Cavs but the Magic, evoking the question: Were the Lakers really the best team in the NBA?
While the Cavs had a better record and better point differential than the Lakers, the case can be made that the Western conference was actually better this year. Despite the East having a slight 231-219 win-loss edge overall against the West, the West’s top 8 teams performed better than the East’s top 8 teams—not including the Lakers and Cavs. This upper echelon of each conference’s teams is what I would like to focus on.
The West’s best averaged 51 total wins on the season and won 62% of their games against all Eastern Conference foes, while the top 8 teams in the East averaged just 46 season wins, and won at a 56% clip against the West. Going further, the western teams averaged a positive 3.06 point differential versus a 1.79 point differential from the eastern clubs. The variances in wins and point differentials among these teams were also smaller in the West, indicating a more equal balance of power and higher likelihood that the Lakers faced a worthy opponent on any given night.
Looking just at the top 8 teams of each conference, we can analyze the strength of the Lakers and Cavs’ best competition night in and night out. At some point, as we scroll down to the 14th and 15th teams in each conference, the marginal awfulness between them is insignificant, and whether or not the Wiz and Knicks performed slightly better than the Queens and the Clips had virtually no effect on the best teams’ records.
The Lakers’ dominance of a Western Conference that displayed arguably stronger competition puts them above the Cavs in my book, and the rightful owners of the 2009 NBA Championship trophy.