No Time to Lose in the Great Northwest

Shanette SotoCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2009

The too close for comfort state of the Northwest division is getting downright interesting and a little cutthroat.

All teams are highly intriguing and all three could potentially upset some over-hyped overdogs in the playoffs.

Sometimes it's a match up problem, sometimes it's a too much talent problem, sometimes it's just too much potential problem and other times the best of all worlds wrapped up in a perennial western conference threat.

You never know what you are going to get from the Northwest, you just know that youre most likely going to get dealt with handedly.

Even the two cellar-dwellers in the division have great potential and some of the most promising stars on both teams: Al Jefferson on the Wolves and Kevin Durant of the Thunder. Both guys have franchise material written all over them and could be multiple year all-stars if they can get and stay healthy.

But right now all the Thunder and Wolves have to look forward to is being the down the stretch spoilers for west side teams who come in underestimating them.

But they will get their chance at making the playoffs next year, only hope is the lottery this year. Minnesota and the Thunder have a long way to go.

The top three in the Northwest are Utah, Denver and Portland. All teams are on pace to win at least 50 games or more and on this day, with 15 games left in the regular season, give or take, and all three teams only separated by 1 1/2 games, the playoffs have already begun, just like last year but this time it seems to have started up earlier.

Winning the division guarantees a top-four seed but it does not guarantee a home-court advantage as the Jazz know all too well.

And still the fourth seed puts you in that bracket of automatically facing the No. 1 seed in the second round, it's not really a seed to be desired if you really think about it without the advantage of the home court.

But look at them, they are all fighting for the coveted crown like little children trying to grasp a miniscule little jewel off of it.

Just to say; "We won the Northwest, and you didn't! haha!!"

It's that important.

For Utah, it's all they have and for Denver its something they never had and they haven't been out of the second round for the past five years.

Neither has Portland.

Both of these teams want some kind of banner or validation, anything, might as well be the Northwest crown, its a pretty snazzy prize.

It has resided in Utah for the past two years but this year it looks to be in great jeopardy of being yanked away and shipped off to a new unknown place.

It's fun to watch.

Who knows where it will end up, most sensible people would say Denver, they have the current statistical lead and the schedule down the stretch looking to be at least on paper, in their favor.

Denver has as much talent as any team out there, Billups has really helped their cause and if someone could help them with shot selection, they just might have something. Nene has the potential to dominate every night he plays and JR Smith off the bench is just wrong in the eyes of any opponent, he is what you call a machine.

And not a Vujacic kind of machine either...

Denver needs to remain healthy and they are talented enough to beat any team but their tendency to gravitate towards one on one basketball makes them look worse than what they actually are.

Portland is full of potential, that's all we ever hear with Portland is potential. OK we get it, we know Portland is synonymous with potential, cool it with the potential already.

But with them its true.

Brandon Roy is proving to be a clutch player and Aldridge and Pryzbilla as a one two punch is tough for any opponent. Add in their deep bench and they are a veteran away from reaching the conference finals, my Jazz did it with Derek Fisher in 2007, it helps, a lot.

The Jazz are probably the best most seasoned team out of the three. They have tasted success in the playoffs in the last couple seasons, have the most experience, and an extremely deep bench gives them variety of looks available to throw at you.

With Kirilenko, Millsap, and Korver coming off it, and if you really want to get crazy, they'll throw Matt Harpring at ya.

Plus Jerry Sloan is quite possibly the best coach in the league. And Deron is becoming one of the premier point guards in the game. Add in all of their youth and unmatched combination of experience, and their style of no-nonsense physical but straightforward team play and they are a Thabeet away from winning every championship for the next decade.

But fact is Utah's record is the worse, currently in third place 1.5 games behind Denver.

One and one-half games is nothing in the NBA and could almost flip -flop after two games, but Denver has one definite advantage that neither Portland or Utah have-the scheduling gods made it easiest for Denver down the stretch.

Denver plays mostly home games and mostly -.500. in the last 16 games. Utah and Portland have mostly road games against +.500 clubs.

The Northwest division might be decided on the last day of the season, Portland and Denver play their respective last games on that day against each other at the Rose Garden in Portland.

Utah will have the hardest challenge of defending their title, it will take some kind of miracle to win it this year. Baring some kind of collapse from Denver, Portland will most likely just try to not finish in eighth...and Utah will try to not finish seventh.

It's an exciting Northwestern race and the homerun stretch has just started, stay tuned to see who gets the crown and the bragging rights.


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