Western Conference mid-season Recap
The NBA season is well under way and it is time to see how the league is shaping up. With the All-Star game right approaching quickly, the playoff positioning is at an utmost importance, as teams are fighting for their chance to knock off the two time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Most of the NBA standings have been following pre-season predictions, but many surprises but a few teams out West may lead to a wild finish to the season. The following is a recap of the Western Conference up to the Saturday, February 12, 2011.
Southwest- San Antonio Spurs (44-9); The Spurs are once again at the top of their game and are out to gain one more title for Tim Duncan and coach Greg Popovich. The Spurs have continued to use the AT&T Center the hardest place to play in the league for opponents with an outstanding home record of 25-2. The Spurs have relied heavily on their Big Three of Ginobili, Parker and Duncan, who have combined to average 49 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists a game. San Antonio has led the entire NBA with the best record for most of the season, and if the Big Three continue to perform this well with help from key role players like Richard Jefferson and Towson Graduate Gary Neal, the Spurs may be a tough team to stop come playoff time.
Pacific- Los Angeles Lakers (38-16); Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol seem to be up to their old tricks as the Lakers only trial the Spurs in the Western Conference. LA has endured a few tough stretches this season, losing three big games earlier to Miami on Christmas, Boston and San Antonio on a last second Antonio Mcdyess tip-in, but wins at the Boston Garden and in New York City may have helped right the ship. The Lakers are looking for their third championship in a row, and if LA can keep up the pace they may have a chance at this accomplishment for the second time in 11 years. The Lakers have been playing well not only at home, but on the road as well while they have identical records away from the Staples Center as they do there in Hollywood. This team still seems to have the talent to continue to roll, but with trade rumors swirling regarding Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum, it will be interesting to see where this Lakers team ends up.
Northwest- Oklahoma City Thunder (33-18); The new kids on the block continue to prove they are here to stay, and early MVP candidate Kevin Durant is showing this through his outstanding play. Durant has exploded on to the scene over the past year and is averaging an incredible 29 points and 7 rebounds a game this season. Durant has teamed up with UCLA standout Russell Westbrook as they have put the team on their shoulders and rushed out to dominate the Northwest division with an 8-2 record and lead the Denver Nuggets by 3 and half games. The Thunder will need role players such as Jeff Green and James Harden to continue to contribute if they want to have a chance at moving past the first round for the first time since moving to Oklahoma. If the Thunder gets home court through the playoffs, watch out, as everybody remembers how rowdy the crowd was when they almost shocked the world and knocked off the Lakers last season.
Rest of West Playoff Standings:
4- Dallas Mavericks (37-16); Dallas has been on a tare this season with its most recent 11 game win streak just snapped by a game winning shot by Aaron Aflalo in Denver. Dallas has been steady all season with a nice mix of offense and defense averaging 98 points a game while only allowing 95 points a game. The Mavs took a big hit when they lost Caron Butler for the season to injury, but Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki have stepped up huge and are leading them to another trip to the post season. Dallas currently owns the third best record in the West, but trail the Spurs by seven games in the Southwest Division. Match ups are everything in the NBA and we will see who Dallas ends up playing in the playoffs as their window is closing to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since blowing a 2 games to zero lead against the than D-Wade led Miami Heat in 2006.
5- New Orleans Hornets (33-22); New Orleans has rebounded nicely this season after injuries plagued them all of last year. Chris Paul is out to prove he is the best point guard in the NBA while posting 16.5 points, four rebounds and almost ten assists a game. Paul has gotten big help from David West and former Rookie of the Year Center Emeka Okafor, as they trail the Thunder by only two games for the coveted fourth spot in the playoffs. New Orleans may need to pick up the pace on offense has they average a conference low 95 points a game; but with a defense that has given up a conference best only 92.5 points a game they may be able to prove how a great defense can overcome a lousy offense.
6- Denver Nuggets (31-23); So the trade rumors and consistent reassurance of Carmelo Anthony’s departure has been well documented, but who cares. The Nuggets have been playing real well of late and seem to be able to beat anybody in Denver. The 22-7 record has proved how good Denver can be, but their atrocious 9-16 record away from the Pepsi Center may be their downfall. Unlike the aforementioned Hornets, the Nuggets have once again shown that you can still win without playing any defense, as they have given up a whopping 105 points a game. This may not matter as Denver has put up almost 108 points a game and are well in control of their own destiny, trailing Oklahoma by only 3 and half games for first place in the Northwest Division. With Denver playing so well at home and the possibility of unloading Anthony before the February trade deadline, it will be interesting to see how the Nuggets play down the stretch of the season.
7- Utah (31-24); Shocking news happened this past week with the sudden resignation of head coach Jerry Sloan. Sloan has been on the sidelines of the Jazz since before I was even born and has been the most constant thing in the NBA since the invention of the three point line. Sloan’s departure has made way for Tyrone Corbin to take charge, and he should be in good shape with Deron Williams playing at All-Star form. Williams is averaging 21 points and almost 10 assists a game, and combined with the play of big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, Utah is not a team that you want to see this postseason. Energy Solutions Arena is always a tough place to play, and has long as Corbin can handle to pressure of replacing a legend, Utah will be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.
8- Portland (29-24); Portland is hanging on the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, and if Lamarcus Aldridge continues to put up big numbers they should be able to hold on to it. Portland has struggled on the road with an 11-17 record, but if they can improve on this they will be a tough team for anyone to play this post season. Brandon Roy’s and Greg Oden’s injury problems have continued this season, but the Blazers are not feeling sorry for themselves. If they can keep up their play into the playoffs than we will see who they can knock off along the way.
Western Conference Food For Thought:
By: Jason Stein
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