But that was your mother's East. Today, the rugged portion of the WNBA is all east of the Mississippi. To wit, while Seattle finished the season with the league's best record at 28-6, the next five best records all belonged to Eastern teams, and Chicago's 14-20 mark would have placed them a game out of second in the West.
Just ask Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn. At 21-13, Dunn's team lost just one more game this season than last, when they went to the WNBA Finals. That loss was enough to bounce the Fever down to third in the conference, behind Washington and New York, which both finished at 22-12.
"It wasn't so much being defending champions as it is being in the Eastern Conference and the Eastern Conference being so much better and so much more competitive top to bottom," said Dunn. "I think knowing that everybody in the East got better, that was the biggest challenge."
No team represents the East's resurgence more than the Washington Mystics, who won a franchise record 22 games and captured the top seed in the conference, despite playing the full year without their best player, guard Alana Beard, who missed the season with an ankle injury.
The Mystics signed veteran free agent guard Katie Smith in the offseason, and while Smith, who has two WNBA titles when she played in Detroit, hasn't lit up the scoreboard, her presence has steadied Washington.
"It's a comfort level," said Smith Tuesday. "They have trust in myself and I trust in them. It's confidence that you give them because you've been there and you've had success. You don't get too high or too low. You're going to go about business because it's another game."
Washington will open the postseason in one best-of-three conference semifinal Wednesday night against Atlanta, which, like the Mystics, reached the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history.
In the other semifinal, which begins Thursday, Dunn's Fever travels to New York and while the Liberty will have home court advantage, the two teams split their four game series this year, each winning one at home and one on the road.
"There's no clear cut advantage to playing at home when you're playing at team in the East," said New York coach Anne Donovan. "The reality of our conference has been a fight every night no matter where you play. But the comfort of being in your home comfort zone, your own bed at night and with your own rims for one or two games is an advantage."
No. 1 Washington (22-12) vs. No. 4 Atlanta (19-15)
Coaches: Washington's Julie Plank; Atlanta's Marynell Meadors
Season series: Washington 3-1
Starting lineups: Washington (C Chasity Melvin 5.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg.; F Crystal Langhorne 16.3 ppg. 9.7 rpg; F Monique Currie 14.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg; G Katie Smith 9.5 ppg, 2.6 apg; G Lindsey Harding 12.1 ppg, 4 apg.)
Atlanta (C Erika de Souza 12.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg; F Sancho Lyttle 12.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg; F Angel McCoughtry 21.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg; G Iziane Castro-Marques 16.9 ppg, 2.6 apg; G Shalee Lehning 3.7 ppg, 4.8 apg.)
Player to watch: Katie Smith. The two-time WNBA champion was brought in by the Mystics front office particularly for moments like these, when she theoretically could impart wisdom and experience to a youthful lineup. Smith's ability to play multiple positions should be a major help to Washington.
Matchup that matters: Angel McCoughtry vs. Monique Currie. McCoughtry, the league's second leading scorer, is an improving defender, but is better at playing the passing lanes than one-on-one coverage. If Currie can make McCoughtry guard her straight rather than allowing her to slough off into the passing lanes, the Mystics will be in good shape.
Series scoop: The Dream led the WNBA in rebounding, and outrebounded Washington 44-38 in their lone win over the Mystics. Lyttle and de Souza combined for 29 rebounds in that game, and Atlanta, which has the height advantage, needs their frontcourt to control the boards to have a chance.
Notable: The Mystics tied with New York for second-best home record in the league. Ironically, the Liberty were the only Eastern playoff team not to win at Verizon Center.
Who's gonna win?: The Mystics have the WNBA's longest active winning streak and are on a roll. Meanwhile, the Dream have lost six of their last 10 and are sliding. Washington looks too poised to have much trouble with Atlanta. Mystics in two.
No. 2 New York (22-12) vs. No. 3 Indiana (21-13)
Coaches: New York's Anne Donovan; Indiana's Lin Dunn
Season series: Series tied 2-2
Starting lineups: New York (C Taj McWilliams-Franklin 10.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg; F Janel McCarville 8.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg; F Nicole Powell 9.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg; G Cappie Pondexter 21.4 ppg, 4.9 apg; G Leilani Mitchell 9.3 ppg, 3.8 apg.)
Indiana (C Tammy Sutton-Brown 8.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg; F Ebony Hoffman 8.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg; F Tamika Catchings 18.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg; G Katie Douglas 13.7 ppg, 3.3 apg; G Tully Bevilacqua 3.9 ppg, 1.6 apg.)
Player to watch: Cappie Pondexter. As the Liberty zoomed to the top of the East with a 10-game win streak, Pondexter moved to the top of the Most Valuable Player list. She dropped 40 on Indiana in a July, albeit in a loss, and she'll warrant a committee of Fever defenders to try to keep her in check.
Matchup that matters: Taj McWilliams-Franklin vs. Tammy Sutton-Brown. Sutton-Brown has been largely inconsistent through her Indiana career, and if she shows signs of sputtering in this series, Dunn won't hesitate to sub her out with former New York center Jessica Davenport. McWilliams-Franklin, meanwhile, is a savvy veteran who has helped solidify the Liberty's interior game, and will be spelled by Tulsa Shock refugee Plenette Pierson.
Series scoop: Tamika Catchings averaged 20 points a game in the four meetings with New York.
Notable: Each team split their two home games, but the Liberty won the last two games by a combined 31 points.
Who's gonna win?: For three-quarters of the season, Indiana looked like the best team in the East, but never could seal the deal. The Liberty are a one-point road loss to Washington in the next to last game from going into the postseason on an 11-game roll. This could be a bruising battle, but New York has the momentum. Liberty in three.