It's been a while since we have had a new blog about the status of the NBA and what there is to look forward to. After all, we are one week removed from the All-Star Break, in which Dwight Howard just completely stole the show with his "Superman" antics. I do not know about everyone else but I cannot wait to see the rest of this NBA season. The Western Conference reminds me a lot like the stock market these days. One day you can be up, the very next day, you are falling from home court advantage. On "Off the Glass" Mike Tramontozzi, Gabe Gomez, and myself always talk about the shifting power in the Western Conference and the positives it creates for Commissioner Stern and the NBA. In the past years, people were banking on San Antonio year in and year out to make it to the Finals. The same cannot be said for this year. In this blog I am going to run down the 10 teams (yes, I'm including Portland, after all they would be the 6th seed in the East) in the West who have a shot in the playoffs and the question marks that surround them currently.
Standings so far:
1. New Orleans Hornets - 37-15: Can Chris Paul continue to lead his teammates and play MVP-type basketball? The trade for Bonzi Wells provides them with a scorer but will this disrupt the chemistry of an already unified group? Can they get solid bench production? Is Peja actually healthy? (that one is for you Malone...)
2. Los Angeles Lakers - 37-17 1GB: When and if Andrew Bynum returns from his knee injury, how effective will he be? Is Kobe's right pinky going to be the downfall of this already loaded team? Will Kobe continue to trust his teammates especially in late game situations? The increasing comfort level of Pau Gasol....
3. Phoenix Suns - 37-17 1GB: Can Shaq stay healthy? Can he play enough minutes to play an effective role for the Suns offense? Who is going to make up for Shawn Marion's perimeter defense? D.J. Strawberry?
4. Utah Jazz - 35-19 3GB: Has Kyle Korver actually been the difference in the Jazz season? Can Andrei Kirilenko continue to play at a high level? Lack of balance of home vs. road record (23-3 Home, 12-16 Away) aka home court is essential for the Jazz. The two-headed monster of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer...
5. San Antonio Spurs - 36-17 1.5GB: Can Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Tim Duncan all stay healthy on the court at the same time? Will anyone else besides the big 3 step up and contribute on the offensive side? Is age a factor, especially in the playoffs?
6. Dallas Mavericks - 35-19 3GB: Is Jason Kidd the answer for the Mavericks to finally get over the hump? Will the lack of bigs, especially competing against Pau, Yao, Stoudemire, Shaq, Boozer, be a huge factor? Does Jason Kidd have enough in the tank?
7. Houston Rockets - 34-20 4GB: Winners of 10 in a row, can they keep it going? Is T-Mac's back FINALLY going to hold up? Is T-Mac FINALLY going to make it out of the first round? Can the bench continue to be as productive as they have been?
8. Denver Nuggets - 33-20 4.5GB: Can the Nuggets stay alive with just two primary scorers (Melo and A.I.)? Are they capable of playing any sort of defense? Lack of balance on the offensive side...
9. Golden State Warriors- 33-21 5GB: Do they have another surprise run in them like they did last year? Can Baron Davis continue to be the unsung hero? Will the balance on the offensive side hold up? Can they outscore the opponents, considering they are all anti-defense?
10. Portland Trail Blazers - 29-25 9GB: Do they have a magical run left in them like they had earlier in the season in which they won 16 in a row? Where would they be if they had a healthy Greg Oden?
When this is all said and done I think the two teams that will be left out of the playoff race will be the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers. I do not think the Nuggets can make it with just Melo and Iverson scoring the rock. I also know that at least one team (probably Denver) will have 50 wins and not make the playoffs...That is almost unheard of. I think the Lakers are the team to beat in the West. I think that as of right now, just imagine until Bynum comes back. That is a scary team for now and many years to come.
To put this all in perspective, the top 10 teams in the West are all over .500. Only 5 teams in the Eastern Conference are over .500. The Kings who are the 11th seed in the West would be in the 6th seed in the East. While Portland is 4 games over .500 as a 10th seed, Chicago is 11 games under .500 and they are also the 10th seed in the East. My point is, is that even though the East is host to the two teams with the best record in basketball (Boston and Detroit), there is no debate, that the power is in the West.
-Matt Soldano ("Off the Glass" - every Wednesday night from 9-10pm on www.mywcwp.com)