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In this case, we're contrasting the team formerly known as the Baltimore Bullets (aka the Washington Wizards) and the Houston Rockets in what is an instructive example of the gaping chasm between the Eastern and Western Conferences.

The Wizards got drilled last night by Orlando, losing by 30 points. And Houston won its 16th game in a row, beating Indiana by 18 points.

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To say Washington -- and certainly the Wizards have had more than their share of injuries -- has been ragged is an understatement of Shaquille O'Neal proportions. Within the last few weeks, the Wizards have been pummeled by the aforementioned Rockets (by 25) and even lost to the lowly New York Knicks (one of New York's 18 wins) while beating a pretty good New Orleans team twice. After suffering through an eight-game losing streak a few weeks ago, the Wizards are 29-31 but they are still the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference which, if the season ended today, puts them in the playoffs. Naturally, the cutoff is at eight.

Meanwhile, the Rockets have had their own injury problems -- or at least one enormous one, a season-ending foot stress fracture suffered by Yao Ming. They're 20 games over .500 at 40-20 but with a quarter of the season still left, they're just the No. 5 seed in the West and could easily be run down by the likes of Denver and not make the playoffs at all. Houston has two critical conference games in front of them immediately, Dallas tonight and New Orleans Saturday.

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It is becoming abundantly clear that as many as three teams with losing records may make the playoffs in the East while in the West, some franchise could finish with a .600 percent won-loss record and fail to qualify.

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