W's of old a reminder that life in Western Conference can be cruel

W's of old a reminder that life in Western Conference can be cruel
March 24, 2014, 8:00 am
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Don Nelson and Baron Davis know what it feels like to win 48 games and miss the playoffs, a distinct possibility for a Western Conference team this season. (AP)

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The Golden State Curries With A Side of Klay are on pace to win 50 games – actually, nearly 51. This was their stated goal – to clear 50, and an admirable one it is.

They are also 2½ games from missing the playoffs entirely, with 11 games left to play. Thus, their stated goal is going to be almost the bare minimum required to play that elusive 83rd game.

You see, this is one of those rare years in NBA history when 48 wins gets you golf. This has occurred exactly twice in NBA history. The first was in 2010, when Houston finished ninth at 42-40, eight games behind Portland, San Antonio AND Oklahoma City; in other words, they could have gone 49-33 and missed the playoffs too.

The other time was 2008, when the Warriors actually did finish ninth at 48-34, two games behind eighth place Denver. The reward for that was Baron Davis leaving for the Clippers, and the Warriors going 29-53 and 26-56 the next two years, the team sold and Don Nelson fired within two years.

In short, life is a bitch in this man's Western Conference, and you should want it no other way.

Oh, there have been bleatings about merely taking the top 16 teams every year from people obsessed with idiocies like “fairness” and “rewarding excellence.” These people should be beaten, because . . . well, Pope Clement put it best when he said, “Shut the hell up.”

Yes, the East has been the weaker conference for the last 30 years or so. The last time a Western Conference team made the playoffs with a losing record was 1997, when the Clippers did so at 36-46, and Phoenix and Minnesota finished above them at 40-42, and of the 40 times a sub-.500 team made the playoffs since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams, 26 have been from the East.

Moreover 11 teams will have done this in the past 10 years (we are including the current season, where both Atlanta and Charlotte are projected to be below .500), all from the East.

But your pitiable whining in this area must not be countenanced, even though it seems unfair to ask a Western team to win 12 more games for the dubious right to lose to a one-seed.

Truth is, that’s how you get better, by tasting the occasional backhand of fate. You think anyone is singing the joys of being in the Eastern Conference? Hah! There is no series anyone wants to see before Pacers-Heat, and this is a metaphysical truth, in that basketball is an entertainment and anything involving any team south of LeBron James cannot by definition meet that standard. There is a level of excitement in Toronto because the Raptors haven’t made the playoffs in six years. Also Washington (same reason), and Charlotte (one winning record in a decade, and two years removed from going 7-59, the equivalent of 8-74, the worst record ever).

There is no excitement in Atlanta, because it’s Atlanta. And in ninth place, the New York Knickerbockers just got their owner to capitulate in the face of overwhelming and systemic stink and give the team temporarily to Phil Jackson.

Yeah. Sounds like fun.

The Warriors, on the other hand, are winning three of every five games, and every time they lose people head to the Coliseum as a mob with pitchforks and torches demanding the head of coach Mark Jackson, Andre Iguodala to stop being quite so hurt and Iguodala-ish and Harrison Barnes to be shipped out with the next receding tide.

[POOLE: Rewind: Restlessness returns after W's loss to Spurs]

This irrationality is what fans get to do when their team is good, a sensation Warrior fans do not actually have the right to be that comfortable with given their history. Winning 50 games was unthinkable a year ago; hell, it’s only happened to the Warriors four times IN THEIR ENTIRE HISTORY. The only team of more than 20 years’ existence worse than them in that category is the Buffalo/San Diego/ Los Angeles Braves-/Clippers.

And I suggest (without any metrics to prove it, so dismiss this at your leisure) that 50 wins wouldn’t have been accomplished if the Warriors hadn’t been forced to do so by their surroundings. 

The Warriors ought to get to 50 wins. They will have to play very hard to do so, and their reward is a first-round series with a team that matches better with them than vice versa. Life is cruel, and then you get a property tax bill nailed to your forehead.

But if that seems unfair, consider the Phoenix Suns, who may not get in with 48 wins. Remember what 48 wins got you the last time you managed it. Yes, golf.

And in this context, golf kinds of sucks. Actually, in most contexts, golf kind of sucks. But that’s a heartwarming tale for another time.

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