West shoots for all-time best vs. East

Updated: April 7, 2004, 4:27 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The Indiana Pacers' 20-8 record against the Western Conference just got even more impressive than it was. Because we've just been convinced that the West has dominated the East like never before.

It's not just an opinion anymore.

ESPN's unparalleled Research Department has done the actual math and determined that, through Tuesday's games, the West of 2003-04 has tied the West of 1971-72 with a cross-conference winning percentage of .632. Indiana and Detroit (17-11) are the only Leasterners with winning records against the West.

Slams and Dunks math, meanwhile, has determined that the West can establish a new record if Memphis beats visiting Cleveland on Wednesday night in the only remaining West vs. East game on the schedule before the NBA Finals. A victory for the Grizzlies would push the West's record to 266-154, for a winning percentage of .633 ... as well as put LeBron James on the brink of playoff elimination ... which might give Carmelo Anthony a new glimmer of promise in Rookie of the Year voting.

    
    Best Winning Percentage Since 1970-71
    Conference vs. Conference

    YEAR PERCENTAGE '03-04 West over East; .632 '71-72 West over East; .632 '00-01 West over East; .617 '70-71 West over East; .605 '88-89 East over West; .596 '02-03 West over East; .595


The Dallas Mavericks are not deluding themselves. Don Nelson knows Small Ball isn't going to get the Mavs back to the Western Conference finals.

Marquis Daniels
At 6-6, Daniels, bottom, gives Dallas a bigger backcourt.
But ...

Here's what it does do:

A. It gets his rookies on the court more, and those rookies -- Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels -- are not just Dallas' best defenders. They're the silver lining of the Mavericks' season. No matter what happens in the playoffs, both kids look like gems.

B. It gives Dallas a bigger Small Ball team than it had last season. Instead of Steve Nash and Nick Van Exel in the backcourt, it's often Nash and Daniels together. And while no one would dare suggest that Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker have helped the Mavericks defensively, both rebound well for their position and make Dallas better on the boards than they were last season.

C. Of greatest importance, playing Walker at center theoretically limits his presence on the perimeter. The less he's out there, the less he's casting up speculative 3-pointers or keeping the ball away from Nash and Nowitzki. Playing center obviously isn't his first choice, but Walker certainly prefers that to not playing, which is where he was last month.


So let me make sure I understand. Chris Webber is getting bashed by some of his own fans now when he's trying to play on one leg? When he's taking cortisone shots before games in the name of trying to get some kind of flow back before the playoffs start? Say what?


Perhaps I did unveil my Spurs vs. Kings prediction for the West finals a tad early. Not necessarily because of what the Lakers were doing before losing two in a row, but because the seeds keep changing every day. And I think it'll be tough for the Spurs and Kings to meet in the West finals if they're seeded to play in the second round, as they would if the standings as of Wednesday morning stay the way they are.


Steve Francis and Jeff Van Gundy
Steve Francis, left, will probably be hearing it from another head coach elsewhere next season.
Apparently we were also premature to guarantee that Texas will be sending three teams to the playoffs for the first time since 1990. The Rockets haven't clinched anything, except the loss of what's left of Jeff Van Gundy's hair.

Truth be told, Utah and Denver deserve playoff spots out West more than the Rockets. Houston is a dismal 18-29 against conference opponents. That's worse than anyone besides the Clippers and Suns out West. The Jazz is 24-24 against West foes and the Nuggets are even better at 26-21.

And now Steve Francis is suggesting, after Tuesday's loss at Golden State, that Van Gundy's perfectionist demands have helped caused Houston's 3-9 slide. The truer statement: Francis doesn't respond well to criticism from anyone, even when Rudy Tomjanovich was the criticizer. As we've said here before, you're safe to surmise that he'll be someone else's Stevie Franchise next season.


Danny Ainge always says he's not going to listen to the fans or the media during his reconstruction of the Boston Celtics and Glen Grunwald is Exhibit A to back that stance. Grunwald did exactly what the Toronto public -- and Vince Carter -- demanded a few summers back by re-signing Antonio Davis, Jerome Williams and Alvin Williams to big contracts. Those signings convinced Carter to commit to the Raptors long-term.

<center>Grunwald</center>
Grunwald
Look what all that got Grunwald.

Carter's constant struggles with injuries have made it impossible to count on him as a franchise player. Grunwald was then forced to take on another expensive contract (Jalen Rose) to move out Davis and Junkyard Dog. His successor, as a result, will inherit one of the league's top 10 payrolls.

In spite of the existing talent on the roster, and there is some, more than one general manager we've asked about the Toronto job tends to scrunch up his face in an expression that translates to: "That mess isn't going to be easy to fix."


That said ... if Ainge has made a mistake so far, it was trading 'Toine too soon. Because of the modern-day marketplace, where only the unquestionably elite players get the megamillions now, Walker has been saying all season that he will not opt out of the final year of his contract. Meaning that, as he enters that final season at $13.6 million, Walker becomes a trade asset. Teams will inevitably want his expiring contract, which threatens to invalidate Ainge's argument that he couldn't have gotten more for 'Toine than Raef LaFrentz and Jiri Welsch.


Just so we're clear, even with NBA TV finally making it into the Comcast lineup, we're still plenty outraged. Anyone who subscribes to League Pass, which costs almost $200 at the start of the season, should not have to pay extra for the league's channel. Period.


I'm obviously not the most unbiased observer here, but it's a huge (and deserved) victory for Israel that the Euroleague has elected to keep its Final Four in Tel-Aviv at the end of the month, despite the security concerns of some Spanish and Italian clubs. It would have been hypocritical to deem Israel unsafe when Madrid, sadly, was just victimized by a terrorist bombing.

Keeping the event in Israel figures to lessen the presence of NBA front-office types, but one Western Conference executive insists that security isn't the reason attendance will be sparse.

"I'd feel a lot safer going to Tel-Aviv than going to the Olympics," the exec said. "They're the security masters over there. And it's not like the Euroleague Final Four is on this huge world stage. I wouldn't touch the Olympics (in Greece).

"But it's kind of like going to our Final Four (in the NCAAs) -- I've already seen these teams and these players a bunch of times. And in this day and age, the Euroleague games will probably be on NBA TV anyway."


We're not picky. If the folks who make college throwback jerseys prefer to commission a Greg Bunch No. 30, from the 1977-78 Cal State Fullerton crew that upset New Mexico (Michael Cooper) and San Francisco (Bill Cartwright) and came within four points of the Final Four in the school's first-ever trip to the tournament ... that works just as well for us as a Leon Wood No. 20 Titans throwback.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics