Although we are about a third into the season, the Western Conference is yet to find its identity. None of the teams really stand out and make me say “that’s the team to beat”. People are really high on the Oklahoma City Thunder, but I’m not sold. Majority of the teams are just trying to stay healthy right now, thanks to the compressed season. This is one of the few times in which the entire conference is up for grabs.
In the Lead
The Oklahoma City Thunder (15-3) is off to a great start as many of us expected. Besides the fact that they are talented, the fact that they have young legs really helps in this compressed season. It’s tough on a lot of the older guys to be playing four games in five nights. As good as they are, I still find them beatable. I don’t think they play smart basketball when their backs are against the wall, and will be exposed eventually.
The Denver Nuggets (13-5) have been a surprise with a couple of their key players still being held hostage by the Chinese Basketball Association. I think the fact that they are young helps, but they also have a lot of young talent. They currently lead the league in assists and points, which means they move the basketball well. I think they have excellent depth and the great play of Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington has really given the Nuggets a boost.
In the Mix
It’s crazy how the San Antonio Spurs (12-7) just don’t seem to go away. Every year you hear about how they are too old to compete for a title, yet they always seem to make a run. I’m really impressed with the way the Spurs have played regardless of the injuries to Manu Ginobili and T.J. Ford. If you really think about it, the Spurs aren’t that old. Besides Duncan and Ginobili, we are pretty young. I think the Spurs have great depth at the two and three, which has accounted for Ginobili’s absence. If Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili can all be healthy in April (hasn’t happened since ’07), then they can really make a run.
The new look Los Angeles Clippers (9-6) have shown flashes of greatness, but they are yet to put it together. The fact they did not have an offseason or effective training camp definitely contributes to this. They obviously have a talented roster, one that is good enough to compete for a title. The biggest issue with them is team chemistry especially on the defensive end. At times, they are late on rotations and don’t communicate as well as championship teams should. The good thing is, they still have time to improve.
The Utah Jazz (10-6) shocked us by trading away their star point guard Deron Williams last season, but they are still finding ways to win. Paul Millsap has really emerged into a starting power forward. He’s only listed at 6’8, but he plays a lot taller than that. The Jazz are really solid in the front court with Millsap, Al Jefferson, and Derrick Favors. If they want to keep up in the West, I think they are going to need a lot more production from their back court. Devin Harris hasn’t been the same player in the last couple of seasons and FA signee, Josh Howard, has been a disappointed since his arrivals.
I don’t think a lot of people expect the Houston Rockets (10-8) to do much, but I think they can really push for a playoff spot. They got hot and went on a seven game win streak before losing to the Bucks last night, but that really shows how good they can play. The signee of Samuel Dalembert has been a big difference maker. He protects the rim and rebounds. Dalmbert is a good player to compliment Luis Scola. If they can show more consistency, then they should be able to nab a playoff spot.
It’s crazy to think that a jus about 3-5 seasons ago, the foundation of the Portland Trailblazers (11-8) were Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. Now? Brandon Roy retired and Greg Oden hasn’t been healthy since the first game of his NBA career. I really like their current squad more than I have in any of the previous seasons. LaMacrus Aldridge still doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He’s quietly a top five power forward. If the Blazers can put a halt to their mental lapses then they have the potential to make a push…… Is it me or does that sound like them every season?
The reigning champion, Dallas Mavericks (11-8), certainly hasn’t looked like reigning champions at all to start the season. Besides Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, they really don’t have a player that can create their own shot or for others. J.J. Barea used to be their playmaker but he’s now in Minnesota. Age has definitely caught up to Jason Kidd as he has been injured/ineffective all season. Even though they Mavs are currently outside the playoff bubble, they should be able to make a push, but I don’t think they are good enough to win back to back titles.
The Los Angeles Lakers (11-8) are definitely not the bullies they used to be. They currently have the worst bench in the league and Kobe has to put up 30 plus just for the Lakers to stay in the game. I don’t think they can continue winning like this. They need some help from their bench, and Metta Peace has proven he can’t be that guy. I can’t see Kobe keeping this up for the entire season. If he does, the dude is going to be exhausted come April. They really need to make some moves if they want any shot to win a title in Kobe’s closing years.
Better Luck New Season
Sacramento Kings (6-13)
New Orleans Hornets (3-15)