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If you have a favorite team, then chances are you know what division they are in. You may even know who the other teams are in your division. But what does a ‘division’ mean, and what are the 6 NBA divisions?
Splitting up teams serves the league and fans in many beneficial ways. But probably not in the way most people think.
Winning your division feels great, and every team should be proud when it happens, but the rewards for doing so may not be as great as you think.
Quick answer: The 6 NBA divisions are: Atlantic, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest, Pacific, and Central.
Many of the popular professional leagues utilize a divisional setup but in a different way. No other league applies the same rules that the NBA has implemented.
This unique setup stems from a colorful history, and once it’s explained, you’ll have a better understanding of the 6 NBA divisions.
What Are The 6 NBA Divisions?
The six basketball divisions in the NBA are:
They are broken up into two conferences – Eastern Conference and Western Conference. Both Eastern Conference and Western Conference have 3 divisions in them. Each division has 5 teams, which makes a total of 30 NBA teams.
You can also see a full breakdown of each team, division, and conference (Eastern Conference and Western Conference) in the tables below.
NBA Divisions And Teams At A Glance
NBA Divisions Map
Here’s an NBA divisions map of North America. It shows all teams and divisions, split between the two conferences – Eastern Conference and Western Conference.
As you can see, the Atlantic, Central, and Southeast divisions belong to the Eastern Conference. The Pacific, Northwest, and Southwest divisions belong to the Western Conference.
Why Do Divisions In The NBA Exist?
Basketball divisions are assigned for many reasons that not only help the players play their best, but also maximize fan enjoyment and participation.
Scheduling games is easier when there is minimal travel involved. Playing teams that are geographically close to each other means players will be well-rested.
It can be challenging to play your best after flying across time zones. This also saves the team money in transportation costs because obviously the different teams play in different cities based on the division.
Fans want to see their favorite players at their best. Having teams close by also means fans will be more willing to travel and support their team on the road
Some of the best NBA basketball games come from within the divisions. Teams have to play each other more often and split the home-court advantage. This creates a very exciting basketball game because each team is so familiar with the other’s strategy.
One of the biggest rivalries is in the Southwest division between the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs. They faced each other five times in the playoffs over the last twenty years, and to add fuel to the fire, they are both in Texas!
In the Eastern Conference, there was the Bulls against the Detroit Pistons. During the ’90s, these were two of the best teams in the league, and they were in the same division! You can imagine how exciting those games were.
Not A Playoff Spot
Divisions organize the NBA teams more efficiently, so we can see how all of them are doing in different parts of the country. They do not give a clear idea of what the playoff picture looks like. Winning your division is not a free ride to the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Breakdown
Representing the teams in the Eastern half of the continent, they are not restricted to the USA. There is one team, the Toronto Raptors, that calls Canada home but is very close to all Eastern conference teams.
The teams in this division are Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto Raptors (Asian player Yuta Watanabe played for the raptors up until recently).
The Atlantic division consists of teams all from the Northeast quadrant of the continent. It was first introduced in the 1970-71 season when the Buffalo Braves, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Portland Trail Blazers were added to the NBA.
The original teams were the Boston Celtics, Buffalo Braves, New York Knicks, and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Boston Celtics are the most successful team within the Atlantic division sporting 23 divisional titles and seventeen NBA Championships.
The Central division (part of the Eastern Conference) was introduced in the 1970-71 season as well and is one of the most decorated divisions.
The teams in the Central division are Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks.
The first four teams were the Atlanta Hawks, Baltimore Bullets, Cincinnati Royals, and Cleveland Cavaliers. This has changed over the years, and more recognizable names have left their stamp on the division.
Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, and the Milwaukee Bucks have all had successful eras since their inauguration. The Milwaukee Bucks have the most divisional titles with 11, but many are more familiar with the Bulls 6 NBA Titles
The teams in the Southeast division (again part of the Eastern conference) are Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards.
Although the Atlanta Hawks started in the Central Division in the Eastern Conference, they were moved to the newly created Southeast division in the 2004-05 season. This also included the Charlotte Bobcats, which later became the Charlotte Hornets.
The Atlanta Hawks are currently led by coach Nate McMillan.
The Miami Heat are the most decorated team in the Southeast division, but not by far, with their interstate rivals, the Orlando Magic, looking to overtake them each season.
The Miami Heat used to have the NBA record of four straight division titles from 2011-14, which no other team had matched until 2018. They won three championships off those as well,
The Miami Heat are currently helmed by coach Erik Spoelstra.
Western Conference Breakdown
The Western conference includes some teams from the central part of the country, but the inspiration came from the Western half of the country.
The video below is a minimovie, depicting the glorious victory of the Golden State Warriors who won the Western Conference finals in 2022.
All teams in this conference are based in the USA.
The Northwest division consists of the Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite Minnesota and Oklahoma City being nowhere near the Northwest, both Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves are in the Northwest division by default.
Oklahoma City Thunder used to be the Seattle Supersonics, and Minnesota Timberwolves used to be in the now-dissolved Midwest division. Despite their location change, the Supersonics/Thunder franchise has won the most Northwest division titles, with six.
Recently, Utah Jazz won a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in the overtime, clinching a number one record in the league. Utah Jazz are currently led by one of the youngest coaches in the NBA, Will Hardy.
The Denver Nuggets have just won at the Golden State Warriors with 128:123. The Denver Nuggets have a strong season, led by coach Michael Malone.
The Pacific division is another original from the 1970-71 season and has seen its fair share of success as part of the Western Conference. The NBA teams in this division are Los Angeles Clippers, LA Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, and Sacramento Kings.
If this division had a rival, it would be the Atlantic division. Any division that includes the Los Angeles Lakers is going to see a lot of wins.
Recently, the Golden State Warriors have been taking over all the headlines with their star, Steph Curry, setting records and winning divisional titles. They hold the NBA record of five straight NBA division titles in a row and are among the most decorated teams in the Western Conference.
Just two days ago on 20 October 2022, The Los Angeles Clippers defeated La Lakers with a score of 103 vs. 97. On October 19, 2022, the Phoenix Suns defeated the Dallas Mavericks.
The Sacramento Kings newest addition Keegan Murray is set for his long-awaited debut this Saturday, October 22, 2022, when the Sacramento Kings play against the LA Clippers.
The Southwest division was created in the ’04/’05 season and has been dominated by one team for most of it. The teams in the Southwest division are Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzles, New Orleans Pelicans, and San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs have won nine divisional titles in that time, but it hasn’t been easy. With cross-state rivals, the Dallas Mavericks putting up a strong fight for every single one of those seasons.
Recently, the Houston Rockets have been finding success and knocking on the door of greatness as well. If the Pacific division is the California league, then this is the Texas league. The New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies have each only won one divisional title. Still, they are behind the San Antonio Spurs, who have 9 titles since the creation of the Southwest division.
Just a few days ago (October 21, 2022), JA Morant played a key role in the victory of the Memphis Grizzlies over the Houston Rockets. The Memphis Grizzlies star scored the remarkable 49 points.
What Does Winning Your Division Mean And Is It Important?
Unfortunately, winning an NBA division is not important. NBA teams that win their division don’t have anything meaningful guaranteed.
It used to mean a ticket to the playoffs, but that rule was changed in 2015-16. The argument was that teams who were less than skilled were granted playoff spots over teams with better records.
The leagues changed this but didn’t disband the divisions in order to maintain better organization and to make scheduling more efficient.
Clinched Division Title
When a team has “clinched” their division, it means they have already won so many basketball games against their division opponents that they will finish the season with the highest record, no matter how many remaining games they will lose.
So no matter if they lose, NBA teams can still clinch a division title, but that doesn’t mean they have clinched a playoff berth. Winning your division is only a point of pride now, and technically you could win your division and not make the playoffs.
Wondering what teams have clinched their division in 2022? Check out the infographic below.
Historically, divisional winners are successful in the playoffs, but nothing is guaranteed. Once in the playoffs, a team’s regular season schedule does not matter. Each team is playing to win, and that is what gives the games so much excitement.
How Are The Playoffs Decided?
If winning your division is not enough to get you in the playoffs, then what will get the job done? The only way a team can make the playoffs is by having one of the best eight records in their respective conference.
This can be easier for some teams due to their division since teams still face teams from their division more often.
If a team can rack up wins against their weaker divisional opponents, they can squeak into the playoffs despite a poor record against other teams outside their division.
History Of Divisions And Were They Removed From The NBA?
NBA never removed divisions. Because of a rule change, they were simply reorganized.
Prior to 1970, the league was split into two conferences, the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. At this point, the league grew to 17 teams, and the decision was made to introduce divisions to make travel and playoff scheduling easier.
The league had two conferences, each having two divisions. The Eastern Conference had the Atlantic division and the Central Division, while the Western Conference had the Midwest division and the Pacific division.
It wasn’t until 2004-05 that the league expanded to what we are familiar with today. The Eastern conference added the Southeast division, and the Western created the Northwest division and Southwest division.
The Midwest division was dissolved, and the teams were reassigned to their new division.
Divisional Successes And Failures
The first two divisions that come to mind are the Atlantic division in the Eastern conference and the Pacific division in the Western conference. Each has storied histories and a lot of bragging rights.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that The Los Angeles Lakers are the winningest team in basketball, but the Atlantic division is more than just a one-trick pony.
The Boston Celtics are right up there with the Los Angeles Lakers and deserve to be in every ‘great team’ conversation. However, the Boston Celtics had to play against the legendary New York Knicks for all of their existence.
Only recently has the New York Knicks franchise suffered failure. For decades these teams fought tooth and nail against each other to earn the right to play against the Los Angeles Lakers.
How Many Games Do Nba Franchise Teams Play Against Division Rivals?
Each team will play against its rival four times throughout the season. The schedule is set as such:
- 4 games against division opponents (4×4=16 games)
- 4 games* against 6 (out-of-division) conference opponents (4×6=24 games)
- 3 games against the remaining 4 conference teams (3×4=12 games)
- 2 games against teams in the opposing conference (2×15=30 games)
Does An Expansion In The League Affect The Game, And How?
Yes, an expansion in the league affects the game because teams will be mostly playing within their division and conference (Eastern Conference or Western Conference). If more teams are added that aren’t as skilled as the current teams, then it could be easier for some teams to make the playoffs than others.
How Do The Divisions Affect The Nba?
Currently, the divisions don’t affect the NBA in a drastic manner. The only time divisional ranking comes into play is when there is a tie for the sixth position, and acts as the second tiebreaker.
For example, if two teams are tied for sixth, then the better team is decided by their head-to-head record. If still tied, then the sixth seed is awarded to whichever team is their respective divisional champion.
Which Is The Toughest Division In The Nba?
The toughest division in the NBA right now is the Atlantic division, which features the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors. It’s part of the Eastern Conference. Both the Celtics and Toronto Raptors have had successful post-seasons recently (as of 2022) and have very good records against their Western conference opponents. Although, this is up for debate because the Pacific division is home to powerful teams like the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns. The Phoenix Suns has recently won over the Dallas Mavericks with a score of 107:105.
Who Is #1 In The Western Conference?
The number one team in the Western conference as of late has been the Golden State Warriors. They have won not only divisional titles but World Championships as well. They have been a force to reckon with since the 2015 season and show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Who Is #1 In The Eastern Conference?
Determining a number one in the Eastern conference is a bit tougher. The Boston Celtics are always to be considered, while the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets are fiercely nipping at their heels. It will be a tough battle to see who represents the East once the NBA finals start up.