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NBA Playoffs 2016: Western Conference Blueprint -- 50 Wins or bust?

The old numbers may not matter anymore

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Back in the olden days of hard fouls not being an automatic flagrant, point guards who got assists, and big men who called hitting a jumper from 14 feet "expanded range" teams brutalized each other for 82 games for a chance to make the NBA Playoffs. With the league at 30 teams the old blueprint used to be "Win half of your inter-conference games, and 35 conference games, and you're a contender". In the Western Conference a few seasons ago winning 50 just meant that you were a playoff team -- of course a lot of those wins had to come against the East. This season things are a little topsy-turvy. The East looks more competent, and the West looks hardly competitive after a few stellar teams.

Winning half your inter-conference games is only 15. That means you need 35 conference wins to puff your chest out a little. There are 52 conference games in a season, so let's look at the West and see who is doing what right now. (N.B. These are just conference games, not the full records of each team).

Team W L % GB Conf. G Left
1 Warriors 26 2 92.86% 0.0 24
2 Thunder 25 4 86.21% 1.5 23
3 Spurs 22 4 84.62% 3.0 26
4 Clippers 17 11 60.71% 9.0 24
5 Mavericks 18 13 58.06% 9.5 21
6 Rockets 18 14 56.25% 10.0 20
7 Trail Blazers 18 15 54.55% 10.5 19
8 Grizzlies 15 13 53.57% 11.0 24
9 Pelicans 12 18 40.00% 15.0 22
10 Jazz 11 17 39.29% 15.0 24
11 Kings 10 20 33.33% 17.0 22
12 Nuggets 11 22 33.33% 17.5 19
13 Suns 9 20 31.03% 17.5 23
14 Timberwolves 8 21 27.59% 18.5 23
15 Lakers 3 29 9.38% 25.0 20

And when you graph it, it looks like this:

2015 2016 Western Conference Feb 1st 2016

The top three teams in the Intra-Conference group are GSW, OKC, and SAS. The Spurs have the most Western Conf. games yet to play, but with how they are playing it's likely that all three of these groups will win 35+ games against the West. We're also expecting them to go .500 against the East, so that's an easy 50 for those guys.

I'm less certain about LAC, DAL, HOU, POR, and MEM. This is an interesting group because if you just look at the "Vs. Conf" records we get some teams higher up than they should be. Secondly, I don't think H-Town should win 50 games this year. And I don't think Portland should go for 40+ with that roster. But you never know.

Our Utah Jazz are in that Tier III group with a bunch of teams that are all "fighting" for the playoffs as well. Or, more honestly, three or those teams are, and three of those teams are not. But all three of them are between 15.0 and 18.5 games behind the Dubs in Conference W/L this season. It's sad that the distance between Team #1 and Team #4 is larger than the distance between team #9 and team #14 in the West. (9 games is larger than 3.5 games)

And, thankfully, the Lakers stand alone at the bottom. LAL, along with DEN, POR, and HOU all play the least amount of Western Conference games the rest of the way. That means more games against the East, and possibly, more games against "harder" competition. Of course, old biases die hard, and more games against the East should also mean more games you can win.

But what do I know?

I find this intra-conference competition to be interesting. I think the best measuring sticks for the Jazz are how the other teams do against the same teams in the same conference. And right now the Jazz aren't looking so hot. Of course, #injuries . . . but I expect a healthy Jazz to finish this season strong.

Will Utah go for 50 wins this year? No. They are about .500 on the road, but I think they've let too many winnable games slip away, and there were too many injury losses against otherwise easier prey. Will Utah pick it up and win 25+ games against the West this year? They can, but it means they'll have to go 14-10 the rest of the way. If they are healthy I think that is possible. Can they win 35? They'd have to win out, and go 24-0 against the West.

That's some Conan the Barbarian type of stuff right there (NSFW Video of Conan brutally killing people in a video game), and if they can do that then they deserve to be called contenders. As cool as that would be, I don't see it happening.