Pretty epic stuff from the NBA on the final day of its season last night. The Warriors won their league-record 73rd regular season game to finish 73-9, eclipsing the mark set by Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Bulls by one win. The retiring Kobe Bryant played his final game last night, leading the Lakers to a come-from-behind win against the Jazz, whose diminished playoff chances would only be realized with a win and Rockets loss. Oh, and Kobe went off for 60.

In addition to those two story lines that have been at the forefront all season long–Kobe’s farewell tour and the “Are the Warriors really better than Jordan’s Bulls?” debate–here’s another one that came to fruition thanks to some improved competition in the Eastern Conference. For the first time since 2004-05, when LeBron James’ Cavaliers missed out during his sophomore campaign, at least one team finishing at or above .500 will miss the playoffs. In fact, we have two this year:

  • 2015-16: Bulls (42-40) and Wizards (41-41) finish out of playoff contention
  • 2014-15: Celtics (40-42) and Nets (38-44) make the playoffs; only 6 teams ≥ .500
  • 2013-14: Hawks (38-44) make playoffs
  • 2012-13: Bucks (38-44) make playoffs
  • 2011-12: Lockout-shortened season, but all 8 .500+ teams make playoffs
  • 2010-11: Pacers (37-45) make playoffs
  • 2009-10: Bulls (41-41) make playoffs while Raptors (40-42) miss out
  • 2008-09: Pistons (39-43) make playoffs
  • 2007-08: 76ers (40-42) and Hawks (37-45) make playoffs
  • 2006-07: Magic (40-42) make playoffs
  • 2005-06: Bucks (40-42) make playoffs
  • 2004-05: Cavaliers (42-40) miss playoffs
  • 2003-04: Knicks (39-43) and Celtics (36-46) make playoffs

Going back another five or six years shows a trend d between all teams ≥ .500 making the playoffs and those < .500 missing, with perhaps a team or two here and there missing with records of 41-41 or 42-40. But it began pretty definitively in 2003-04 and lasted for more than a decade.

In case that doesn’t seem particularly strange to you, bear in mind that the Western Conference has regularly omitted teams two or more games > .500 from its playoff proceedings over the same time span:

  • 2015-16: All teams ≥ .500 make playoffs; all < .500 miss out
  • 2014-15: Thunder (45-37) miss playoffs (seven teams with 50+ wins!)
  • 2013-14: Suns (48-34) miss playoffs (seven teams with 50+ wins!)
  • 2012-13: Jazz (43-39) and Mavericks (41-41) miss playoffs
  • 2011-12: Rockets (34-32) and Suns (33-33) miss playoffs
  • 2010-11: Rockets (43-39) miss playoffs
  • 2009-10: Rockets (42-40) miss playoffs (all eight playoff teams with 50+ wins!)
  • 2008-09: Suns (46-36) miss playoffs
  • 2007-08: Warriors (48-34) and Trail Blazers (41-41) miss playoffs (all eight playoff teams with 50+ wins!)
  • 2006-07: same as this year
  • 2005-06: Jazz (41-41) miss playoffs
  • 2004-05: Wolves (44-38) miss playoffs
  • 2003-04: Jazz (42-40) and Trail Blazers (41-41) miss playoffs

So, over the past 13 seasons, while 12 sub-.500 Eastern Conference teams have made the playoffs, not only have 0 teams from the West joined the postseason party, but 15 teams ≥ .500 on the regular season have missed out, as well. It’s interesting that it took such a dominant season by two teams in the Western Conference (in addition to the Warriors’ 73-9, the Spurs posted an absurd 67-15) to make this parity happen. As the playoffs get underway Saturday afternoon, no teams at or above .500 will be sitting at home, and no teams below .500 will be preparing for their first round opponent.


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