It's always dangerous making observations this early in the NBA season and taking them as hard fact, but it's impossible not to note the parity that is taking the Eastern Conference by storm through three-and-a-half weeks.
There's no easy place to begin -- simple watching of games gives such a sense -- but consider that last season on Nov. 20 there were eight teams with a record better than .500. This season only four teams have had such success, Indiana (10-1), Miami (9-3), Chicago (6-3) and Atlanta (7-5).
A year ago the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference on Nov. 20 was Boston, which sat at 6-5. This year the Detroit Pistons sit in the final playoff spot at 4-7. The worst team in the Eastern Conference this year, the Milwaukee Bucks, are 2-8. Despite the dreadful, injury-riddled start to the year, Larry Drew's team is just 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot.
Philadelphia and Orlando, the two excepted cellar dwellers of the East -- teams thought to be "tanking" to have a high draft selection in June's loaded class -- are 5-8 and 4-7, respectively. The 76ers, which tout wins over expected contenders in the Bulls, Heat and Rockets, are currently the No. 6 seed in the East. Orlando is tied for the No. 8 seed and beat the Clippers two weeks ago.
The Atlantic Division has been an ugly scene. The 5-7 Toronto Raptors lead the division after dreadfully slow starts from the New York Knicks (3-8) and Brooklyn Nets (3-8), both expected to contend for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto's 5-7 mark would place them fourth place or worse in any other division in the NBA, and the Western Conference's New Orleans Hornets, currently in last place in the Southwest, would lead the Atlantic at 5-6. The Raptors likely won't win the Atlantic, but as of today they would be the No. 4 seed and have home-court advantage in the first round.
The top of the East is a bit weaker at the top, too. Those better-than-.500 teams this season have gone 32-12 (.727 win percentage), slightly worse than the top-four teams in the East -- New York, Miami, Brooklyn Milwaukee -- on this date, which had gone 28-10 (.736).
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On Nov. 20 last season, the Eastern Conference had a record of 71-80 (.470). This year, the 15 teams in the East have gone 76-87 (.466), just a hair worse, but still reason enough to show that the teams in the East are competing better against each other.
Three months from now these numbers likely will be laughable. Expect the Knicks to get back on track, and the Nets should have Deron Williams healthy and newcomers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett meshing better with brand-new head coach Jason Kidd. The Bobcats won't be at .500 like they are now -- they have feasted on easy opponents -- and the worst team in the East won't be able to snatch a playoff spot with a two-game win streak.
But it's still interesting to see that the East is open past the top seeds, and that there's still room for teams that have struggled early to right the ship and contend later in the season.