Veteran NBA forward Corey Brewer has played his entire seven-year career for Western Conference teams, winning as few as 15 games in his third pro season with the Timberwolves and as many as 57 games with Denver last season.
And still he and the Nuggets got knocked out in the playoffs’ first round last spring.
“It’s tough in the West,” he said “The last few years, it has been like that. If you’re over in the Eastern Conference, you can make the playoffs if you’re below .500. But the Western Conference, you have to win like 50 games to make it.”
Then there is this season, during which the difference between the two conferences has reached truly lopsided proportions.
Ten teams in the West are at .500 or better while only three in the East have done the same so far.
The 10-12 Boston Celtics lead the East’s Atlantic Division, by a game and a half over a Toronto team that on Monday traded its best player — Rudy Gay — to Sacramento of the Western Conference in a salary-cap-clearing move that also probably makes the Raptors competitive in an Eastern arms race for the 2014 loaded draft’s lottery contest and the chance to draft Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins.
Western teams are 67-31 against Eastern teams going into Monday’s games.
The Wolves are 1-5 in their past six games against opponents — four from the West and the top two from the East — who combined have won 72 percent of their games. In their next two games, they play Eastern Conference foes Detroit on Tuesday and Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Pistons are 10-11, the 76ers 7-14.
“I’ve not seen this much disparity in a long time,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman. “But it’s still early, too.”
An Eastern Conference team — the 18-3 Indiana Pacers — owns the league’s best record. Two-time defending NBA champion Miami, with its 16-5 record, is in the East as well.
But so, too, are the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, two teams once considered playoff teams if not longshot NBA title contenders. Together, they have started 11-28. The Knicks are leading the Nets in a chase for the Atlantic Division’s bottom, by a half-game.
“The teams in the East, the way they’re built, when you look at ’em on paper, they have very good teams,” said Wolves newcomer Luc Mbah a Moute, who played his first five NBA seasons with Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference. “But that’s another thing about this league. You never know how things will go. It’s still early, most teams have played 20 games. That leaves 62 yet to go. A lot of things can happen.”
The Knicks are playing without injured defensive-minded center Tyson Chandler. The aging Nets have been hit hard by injuries themselves: All-Star point guard Deron Williams, star center Brook Lopez, former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry and former Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko all have missed seven or more games.
“Some teams are one healthy guy away from turning it around,” Mbah a Moute said. “It’s too early to go deep into all that stuff.”
Still, the Nets and the Knicks are just one notable winning streak away from not just a playoff spot but from getting home-court advantage as well.
“I’d think they’d right themselves,” Adelman said, referring to the Knicks and Nets. “But you’ve got to play consistently. It’s just the way the league is. If you don’t play consistently, you’re going to go through really rough periods.”
If the season had ended Monday, those 10-12 Celtics would own home-court advantage in the playoffs, the 8-10 Bulls would earn the East’s final playoff spot and the 9-11 Wolves would be a playoff team if they played in the East.
“That’d be nice,” Brewer said about that prospect.
A season ago, 43-39 Utah was the last team left out of the playoffs in the West while 38-44 Milwaukee claimed the last playoff spot in the East. But Miami came out of those Eastern playoffs to win the past two NBA titles.
Wolves assistant coach Terry Porter hasn’t played an NBA game in more than a decade, but he suggests the more times have changed the more they have stayed the same.
“Even back in my day, the West from top to bottom was the better teams,” Porter said. “But for a while Chicago won championships and then Detroit won championships. Sometimes what happens is the West just beats up on each other, so it’s good for the East. They like that. They don’t have to go through as many challenges in the playoffs as some of the teams in the West do.”
The Wolves are 13th in the 15-team West. They’re also just 2½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot after a rugged schedule that turns more favorable starting in January. They also are expected to get injured Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf back by then.
“We’ve got to fight over here,” Brewer said. “We’re still good with the position we are in.”
Or considering how close in proximity the Wolves are to Milwaukee, Chicago or Detroit, maybe they could petition the NBA to adopt them into the Eastern Conference, if only for a season.
“No,” Adelman said, “I don’t think they’ll do that for us.”
Staff writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this report.