This is probably the most interesting year of NBA basketball that I can remember. There have been a myriad of trades, injuries, and lead changes in each respective chase for a division title.
While there has been some flurries going on in the Eastern Conference, the vast majority of this activity has taken place out west.
This is shaping up for what could be one of the most competitive playoffs in a very, very long time.
Last year, when the eighth seeded Warriors upset the top-ranked Mavs, it was an upset of colossal proportions. This year, an upset in a similar situation is not that far-fetched, and frankly, wouldn’t be quite as surprising.
But before any of this playoff action even takes place, the regular season has to be played out and the seeding has to be determined. How will this all end up working out? I will throw in my take on how the Western Conference might look come April.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs can never be counted out of the hunt for a championship. Their great depth and amazing leadership from Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili has, and will continue to, make them a tough matchup for anyone.
This is a very close division race with New Orleans and Dallas, but look for the Spurs to pull it out for a couple of reasons. First, the Hornets finish with 10 of their last 15 on the road. I don’t care how great of a road team you are, that is going to be a tough stretch. With the race most likely coming down to those last few games, one loss could make or break you. Second, Dallas lost a lot of interior-post depth with the trade that they made for Jason Kidd. I don’t think that Erick Dampier can do it by himself.
3. New Orleans Hornets
The fact that they may not win their division won’t hurt them a whole lot. They will only drop down a seed or so—a very manageable position to be in. This is a fairly young team on the rise, and with Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, and David West in the lineup, they should be in good shape come playoff time.
4. Utah Jazz
I see a very slim chance of Denver catching Utah for the division title, so Utah gets the nod in this one. The Jazz are a re-energized team since the acquisition of Kyle Korver. They seem to have a new breath of life following a horrid December in which they went 5-11 after a great start to the season.
The one thing that this team may miss during the playoffs is a shot-blocking big man down in the paint. Andrei Kirilenko can’t play all the D by himself. But the leadership of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer make them a very formidable matchup.
5. Dallas Mavericks
It may take a couple more games to fully integrate Kidd into the lineup, but at the present moment, this is looking like it may have been a smart move by Mark Cuban. The past few games Kidd has played quite well, but there is still room for improvement, and that will only come with time and developing a chemistry with his new teammates. This should be an excellent playoff team.
6. Phoenix Suns
Sorry Suns fans, but I really think that Phoenix is going to pay for the Shaq trade. It hasn’t looked good so far...decent, but not good. The trade was a move that calls for a complete makeup of how the team is run and what style of basketball they play.
The one thing I think the Suns gained out of this move was the fact that it opens up the door for Amare Stoudemire to once again be the dominating force we all remember. Amare was playing out of position. Having Shaq in the lineup allows him to play his natural power forward spot. Shaq also commands the defenses attention. He may not be the old Shaq, but he still commands it. This also opens up room for Amare. This is still a very dangerous team in the playoffs with the leadership of Nash though.
7. Denver Nuggets
Though the Nuggets won’t win their division, they will do enough to pass the Warriors and move into the seventh seed. Their starting five is stacked with AI, Carmello, and Marcus Camby, but they are still missing a true point guard. If they can get that they will be a team to be reckoned with every time they step on the floor.
8. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors run and gun style along with the stellar play of Baron Davis will be enough to get them into the playoffs, albeit not by much. They still have to contend with the likes of Portland and Houston for this one, but the fact is, at this point in time the Warriors are just the superior team. They will make the playoffs and set themselves up for another possible first-round upset.
The fact of the matter is that with the loss of Yao Ming for the season, this team just doesn't have what it takes to get it done anymore.