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The 6 Divisions in the NBA (Ultimate Guide)

There are six divisions in the NBA, which are split evenly among two conferences (Eastern and Western).

Each division has five NBA teams. Here is a general overview:

Eastern Conference

  • Atlantic Division
  • Central Division
  • Southeast Division

Western Conference

  • Northwest Division
  • Pacific Division
  • Southwest Division

The divisions are based roughly on geographic location of each team. Things got a little bit screwed up when teams moved around though (e.g. Seattle → Oklahoma City).

In this post, I take a look detailed look at divisions in the NBA and how they work. Read on for:

Let’s get started!

Eastern Conference

The Eastern Conference consists of the Atlantic, Central, and Southeast Divisions.

Every team is located on the Eastern half of USA/Canada. The Milwaukee Bucks are the furthest West, geographically speaking.

Atlantic Division

nba atlantic division

The five teams in the Atlantic Division are:

  • Boston Celtics
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • New York Knicks
  • Philadelphia 76ers
  • Toronto Raptors

The Atlantic Division teams are tightly bundled around the East Coast of the US (except for Toronto). Even though the Toronto Raptors are in a different country, they are actually still much loser to New York or Boston than most of the other teams in the NBA.

The Atlantic Divisions has the most championships in the Eastern Conference with 23. This is thanks mainly to the Boston Celtics, who have 17 championships. The 76ers have three ( one as the Syracuse Nationals), the Knicks have two, and the Raptors have one.

The winner of the Atlantic Divisions receives the “Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton Trophy” at the end of each season.

Central Division

nba central division

The five teams in the Central Division are:

  • Chicago Bulls
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Detroit Pistons
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Milwaukee Bucks

All of the teams in the Central Division are located in the Midwest USA.

The Chicago Bulls have the most championships in the Central Division with 6. The Pistons have 3 championships, the Bucks have two, while the Pacers and Cavs have one each.

The winner of the Central Division receives the “Wayne Embry Trophy” at the end of each season.

Southeast Division

nba southeast division

The five teams in the Southeast Division are:

  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Miami Heat
  • Orlando Magic
  • Washington Wizards

The Southeast Division is the most geographically spread out of the Eastern Conference divisions. It is also the youngest of the three, having only started in 2004-2005 season. The Central and Atlantic divisions both started in 1970-1971.

The Heat have won the most championships in the Southeast with a total of three. Atlanta has one (as the St. Louis Hawks), and Washington also has one (as the Washington Bullets).

The winner of the Southeast Division receives the “Earl Lloyd Trophy” at the end of each season.

Western Conference

The Western Conference is a lot more spread out across the United States compared to the Eastern Conference.

This is partly due to the fact that two teams moved from the West Coast to more Eastern cities (Seattle SuperSonics → Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008; Vancouver Grizzlies → Memphis Grizzlies in 2002). Also, the New Orleans Pelicans were put in the Western Conference in 2004-2005, after originally being in the Eastern Conference (as the New Orleans Hornets).

The Texas teams (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio) are also technically located on the Eastern half of the US. The NBA had to make the conferences even somehow.

In any case, because of this, Western Conference teams tend to travel a lot more distance relative to Eastern Conference teams.

Northwest Division

nba northwest division

The five teams in the Northwest Division are:

  • Denver Nuggets
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Portland Trail Blazers
  • Utah Jazz

The Northwest Division is a newer division that was created in the 2004-2005 season (along with the Southeast and Southwest Divisions) due to the addition of the Charlotte Bobcats (who later changed their name to the Charlotte Hornets).

It is by far the most geographically spread out division in the NBA. Portland to Oklahoma City is literally travelling across half of the country. Minnesota is in the Midwest, and should technically be part of the Central Division. As a result, the teams in this division do the most travelling.

The Northwest teams also have the least amount of NBA championships of all the divisions (but the most Air Miles points). The OKC Thunder have 1 (as the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979), and the Portland Trail Blazers have one (1977).

The winner of the Northwest Division receives the “Sam Jones Trophy” at the end of each season.

Pacific Division

nba pacific division

The five teams in the Pacific Division are:

  • Golden State Warriors
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Phoenix Suns
  • Sacramento Kings

The Pacific Division consists of all the California-based teams, plus Phoenix.

It is the winningest division in the entire NBA, with a total of 25 championships. The Lakers have 17 of them, Golden State has 7 (two as the Philadelphia Warriors), and Sacramento has 1 (as Rochester Royals).

The Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics (i.e OKC Thunder) were originally part of the Pacific Division before being moved to the new Northwest Division in 2004.

The winner of the Pacific Division receives the “Chuck Cooper Trophy” at the end of each season.

Southwest Division

nba southwest division

The five teams in the Southwest Division are:

  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • San Antonio Spurs

The Southwest Division contains all the Texas-based teams (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio), plus Memphis and New Orleans.

The Pelicans were originally part of the Central Division in the Eastern Conference (as the New Orleans Hornets). They were moved to the Southwest in 2004-2005. The other four teams were originally part of the Midwest Division, which no longer exists.

The Spurs have the most championships in the Southwest Division with five. Houston has two, and Dallas has one.

The winner of the Southwest Division receives the “Willis Reed Trophy” at the end of each season.

How do the NBA divisions work? Why is the NBA split into divisions?

NBA divisions are split based on geographic location of each team.

Teams are put into divisions to reduce travel time for each team, and make scheduling a bit easier. The basic formula for each NBA team schedule is like this:

  • Four games apiece against teams in-division (16 games)
  • Either three or four games apiece against conference opponents (36 games spread across 10 opponents)
  • Two games apiece against out-of-conference opponents (30 games)

The majority of games are played against teams in the same division or same conference. This helps create division “rivalries” which is good for fans and TV.

The scheduling system is great for teams in divisions like the Atlantic or Pacific Divisions, as they can cut down travel time greatly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help much for the Northwest Division (poor Portland).

Playoff Implications (pre 2015-2016)

Before the 2015-2016 season, the winner of a division was guaranteed a top four seed in their conference playoffs bracket.

This ended up becoming a problem because if a team won their division, but had a worst overall record than a team that was 2nd – 4th place in another division, they would still get homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

The NBA realized this problem, and changed it in 2015-2016. Now playoffs are seeded based on the overall record of each team, regardless of their own division ranking.

NBA Divisions Map

Here is a nice visual map of the divisions (created with the very cool Mapchart):

Interesting Facts / FAQ

When did NBA get rid of divisions?

The NBA never got rid of divisions. They simply removed the playoff implications in 2015-2016 season as explained above.

What is the hardest division in the NBA? The best?

Each season is a bit different.

For the most recent 2022-2023 season, the Pacific Division was the most competitive; every team had winning records. The Lakers were the last ranked team in the division, but still had a record of 43-39.

The Atlantic Division was also very competitive; only the last ranked Toronto Raptors had a .500 record (41-41).

Based on travel time/distance, the Northwest Division is definitely the hardest division to be in.

Has a whole division ever made the playoffs NBA?

Yes, it has happened a few times:

  • In the 2014-2015 season, the entire Southwest Division made the playoffs (i.e. Dallas, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, San Antonio).
  • In the 2005-2006 season, the entire Central Division made the playoffs (i.e. Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indiana, Milwaukee)
  • Going even further back, in the 1985-1986 season, the entire Midwest Division (no longer exists) made the playoffs (i.e. Dallas, Denver, Houston, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Utah)

Why are the Grizzlies in the Western Conference?

Memphis is geographically in the Eastern half of the United States, so why are the Grizzlies in the Western Conference?

The Grizzlies used to be located in Vancouver, Canada, which is way up there on the west coast.

They moved to Memphis in 2001, but the NBA needed to keep the conferences balanced so they remained in the Western Conference.


What do you think about the divisions in the NBA?

If you were to reorganize the NBA divisions, how would you do it?

Let me know in the comments below:


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Larry Lee

Larry Lee

Larry is a basketball addict, and the founder of Hoop Dojo. He started Hoop Dojo to share his love of the game and help the next generation reach their full potential.