NBA Western Conference Update
The NBA's Western Conference has been related over the previous decade to the run-and-gun, fast paced, offensive style that is the catalyst for excitement. Whereas the East is synonymous for hard-nosed defense, the West is a scorers dream. Up until last season, a lot of the same names had been running things in the Western Conference though: Kobe's Lakers, Duncan's Spurs, Nash's Suns, ect. But the deep playoff runs of some hip new powerhouses at the conclusion of last year beg the question: is it time for a changing of the guard?
To open, it would be a travesty not to pay respect to the Thunder. Posting an early 16-3 record and having one of the more well-rounded and complete rosters, OKC has clearly been the elite in the West's class so far. The one-two punch of Durant and Westbrook has been dominant, Harden has stepped up as a viable third option, and the big men in the interior have proven to be invaluable. The steal of landing Kendrick Perkins still blows my mind.
The Northwest Division also boasts Denver (who may be the deepest team in the NBA), Portland (who has a cavalcade of defensive 'bigs'), and Utah (who continues to win on the backs of underrated system guys), all for whom would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Minnesota rounds out this division, who should be relevant in a year or two. Kevin Love may be the most underrated player in the league, and Ricky Rubio has all the tools to be the next Jason Kidd.
The Pacific Division starts with LA, but it's not the LA we're accustomed to. While Kobe Bryant is having a phenomenal season and Bynum is getting healthy, it's the Clippers that stand atop the mountain at the moment. A top 5 team for the first time in a long time, the Chris Paul trade is already paying dividends, and the bench play of 'Lob City' and their guards has been tremendous. Phoenix is still trying to find a consistency on defense, and Golden State and Sacramento (while having decent offensive gameplans) just aren't very good or experienced.
The Southwest Division wraps us up, and this may arguably be the toughest division in the NBA. Dallas has rallied from some early season follies to regain the lead, but Houston is right on their tails. Kevin Martin is going to wind up with a monster year if he can stay healthy. San Antonio is going in the opposite direction, having started hot and fallen off, but their system and experience should get them back into the playoffs for one more run. Memphis is also in this division, and they had a hot run in the postseason last year WITHOUT their star guard in Rudy Gay. The loss of their post presence in Zach Randolph is big, but this team always seems to rally when guys go down. New Orleans rounds out this group, but after losing their two stars in the offseason, the Saints have a better shot of making the NBA playoffs than the Hornets do. So here are my opinionated rankings for the week in the West (drumroll please):
3. LA Clippers
5. LA Lakers
6. Trail Blazers
By: Jason Burke
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