Nearly halfway into the season, the Western Conference is looking even deeper than many anticipated. The addition of the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder to an already strong list of teams will certainly make for an exciting race to the finish. Let’s size up the contenders.
Los Angeles Lakers (30-9)—If this team lost Kobe and Pau for the rest of the regular season, they would still be dancing come playoff time. The Lakers simply have too much depth and too much talent to wind up anywhere but number one in the playoff standings.
Dallas Mavericks (25-13)—The off-season additions are looking good so far. Shawn Marion is blending in better than anyone outside of Dallas expected, Jason Kidd is averaging a career low in turnovers, and Dirk is playing as well he ever has. This team is Dallas’ best since they reach the finals in 2006.
San Antonio Spurs (24-13)—One of the biggest reasons Spurs fans are happy is second round pick DeJuan Blair. It’s not often teams draft a starting center past the first 10 picks, but San Antonio seems to have landed a gem. With Tim Duncan taking some games off, he’s looking like his younger self and should be in great shape for the playoffs.
Health Equals Happiness
New Orleans Hornets (20-17)—Early in the season it was speculated that the team would be dismantled in order to get under the luxury tax. Emeka Okafor, David West and even Chris Paul were rumored to be on the block for the right price. Unfortunately for potential buyers, as the rumors ran wild, the team started winning. Since a 3-8 start, the Hornets have gone 17-9. With Okafor starting to click and Paul maintaining his status as worlds best point guard, it’s hard to see them missing the playoffs.
Portland Trailblazers (24-16)—Injuries have devastated this team so far—especially the Greg Oden season ender. Their saving grace is a talented deep lineup. As long as Roy can stay on the court, they are a playoff team.
Denver Nuggets (24-16)—After a deep playoff run last year, the Nuggets lost a few key pieces during the off season, greatly reducing their depth. With Carmelo and Chauncey healthy they are a threat to take down anyone, but an injury to either would be devastating come playoff time. Both players are capable of leading the rest of the squad to the playoffs, but only the pair can ensure it’s not a one and done.
Oklahoma City Thunder (21-17)—Young, inexperienced, and full of energy. Those three traits will propel them long enough to get into the playoffs, but Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic are incapable of competing with real bigs. Until they get a big man, Kevin Durant and co. will have to settle for one and done in the playoffs.
Houston Rockets (22-17)—It’s hard to see the Rockets continuing to play as well as they have. Defense has been their strong point, but the loss of Yao will continue to hurt them up front.
Phoenix Suns (24-15)—After a 14-3 start, the Suns have managed to win only 10 of their last 22 games. The same problems plague Phoenix that have for years. Amare, while being a great offensive player, is rubbish on defense. Nash can’t defend a paper bag. Expect them to continue sliding in the standings throughout the year.
Utah Jazz (22-17)—With salaries totaling $77 million dollars, it’s certain the Jazz will try to move Carlos Boozer for cap relief. Trading a 20-10 guy from the lineup is almost certain to hurt the team. Even worse, Deron Williams continues to battle injury problems that aren’t likely to heal without substantial down time.
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