Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Eastern Conference is having a miserable season.

Or the Western Conference is enjoying a banner one, depending on whether you see the glass as half empty or half full.

Either way, teams in the East are 18-49 (.269) against the ones in the West, the conference’s worst showing during its pitiful recent run.

Through Sunday’s games, only three Eastern Conference teams — the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers — had winning records. Ten teams, two-thirds of the conference, were below .400.

The Western Conference boasted 10 teams with winning records and just one embarrassment — the Memphis Grizzlies, who are playing without injured All-Star Pau Gasol.

The reasons for this disparity are personnel and management.

The Eastern Conference may possess two-thirds of the holy trinity of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, but it doesn’t have much else.

James’ Cavaliers are a mishmosh of complementary parts. He might want to try playing with his myriad shoe-pushing alter-egos.

Paul Pierce in Boston and Allen Iverson in Philadelphia have been leading one-man teams for a decade. Wade, without the injured Shaquille O’Neal, now knows how they feel. Add Jermaine O’Neal and the Indiana Pacers to this group.

The New Jersey Nets, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards are the conference’s disappointments. All three have enough talent to win, but they have found the West or the road or both too tough in the season’s opening month.

The Magic are an early curiosity. Dwight Howard, their best player, turns 21 next week. Grant Hill, their leading scorer, is 34 and has missed 275 games in the past five seasons. Darko Milicic struggles to remain relevant.

Poor management hasn’t helped the conference, starting with the capped-out New York Knicks, brought to you by James Dolan and Isiah Thomas.

Eddie Jordan of the Wizards, Rick Carlisle of the Pacers, Scott Skiles of the Bulls and Lawrence Frank of the Nets — all in their fourth seasons with their teams — are the longest tenured coaches in the conference.

Miami’s Pat Riley is the conference’s only coach who can be described as great based on his body of work.

That’s a stark contrast to the Western Conference, which includes Phil Jackson, Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich, George Karl and the last two Coach of the Year Award winners: Mike D’Antoni and Avery Johnson.

The West also includes Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves — a player so good on a team so poorly run it should be in the Eastern Conference.

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