If anything is to be taken away from the NBA season thus far, it’s the obvious… The Western Conference is unbelievably scary. The Golden State Warriors, the current No. 1 seed in the West, is on pace to win 66-69 games, racing out to a 33-6 record. Yet it holds on to the top spot by 3 1/2 games as Portland is hot on its trail (no pun intended). If that does not give you an idea of the West situation, the Phoenix Suns, the current No. 8 seed, is on pace to win 48 games. On the outside looking in? Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, in addition to Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. As we hit the midway point of the season, here are the contenders, pretenders, and the unknown: Contenders: Record 33-6, West No. 1 Golden State Warriors: In his first season as an NBA head coach, Steve Kerr has the Warriors rollin’ into the second half of the season. Not only the highest scoring team (110 ppg), GS posts the best defensive rating in the league. Stephen Curry is an MVP candidate, averaging 23 points, eight assists, and five rebounds, but the emerging Draymond Green is the team’s catalyst (11 points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes a game). They also have a player by the name of Klay Thompson, who gives the Warriors a second 20+ point scorer and one of the best shooting guards in the league. 18-1 at home and 20-6 versus conference foes, the Warriors are for real. Record 31-11, West. No. 2 Portland Trailblazers: Arguably one of the league’s best duos, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are leading the charge up in Portland. While Aldridge is averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds, it is the development of Lillard making the Blazers a load to deal with. While Dame’s averages of 22 points, six assists, and five rebounds are nice, it is the extra level he goes to when it matters (leads the NBA in fourth quarter points). As I write this, Aldridge is out with a hand injury (x-rays negative) and Robin Lopez continues to rehab from his fractured hand, health is what could derail the Blazers chances, but for now, they are in great shape to be a tough out in the playoffs. Record 29-13, West. No 5 Dallas Mavericks: The makeup of Dallas is incredible. There have been growing pains since Rajon Rondo was added to the team, but that was expected. Dirk Nowitzki is older and the team’s leading scorer is Monta Ellis, but you could see that change come playoff time. You add in the defensive presence in Tyson Chandler and the scoring ability of Chandler Parsons, the Mavericks may be the toughest team to guard in a seven game series. They are legitimate contenders, but will need to gel at the right time as their downfall could be, ironically, too many weapons. Record 29-12, West No. 3 Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies are built for the playoffs, but it remains to be seen what the addition of Jeff Green does for them. While Green is an upgrade over Tayshaun Prince, how much of an upgrade is up for debate. Memphis trots out the best front court in Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph and one of the game’s most underrated players in Mike Conley, but the bench is still ranks in the lower half in the league in scoring. The starting lineup can hold its own with the best of them but they cannot play 48 minutes. In the playoffs, rotations cut down and minutes pick up for the main players, but Memphis can do itself a favor by adding a scorer off the bench. Regardless, Memphis is a tough matchup for any team that is unlucky enough to face them. Pretenders: Record 29-13, West No. 4 Houston Rockets: When Dwight Howard and James Harden teamed up last season, the expectations of a championship were put in place. A quick start this season and those expectations looked even more like a possibility but it simply was too early for Houston. Signing Josh Smith has so far yielded average results for Houston having gone 9-6 in the 15 games with him on the squad. Harden is having an MVP season, averaging 27 points, seven assists, and six rebounds, while also playing quality defense this season, but the roster simply does not have enough to take out the other top teams in a seven game series. Record 28-14, West No. 6 Los Angeles Clippers: One of the more intriguing teams in the league, everything seemed to align for the Clippers to take it’s best shot at a title this season. Unfortunately the team’s weaknesses from past seasons still remain. DeAndre Jordan is the team’s best big man (sorry Blake Griffin). Chris Paul is his usual star self, but the supporting cast needs a retool. The latest acquisition of Austin Rivers, son of Doc, screams personal reasons more so than basketball reasons (Lakers fans everywhere cursing at the computer screen). Since last season, the team has needed an upgrade at the small forward spot, yet the team refuses to address that (Tayshaun Prince will probably be signed once bought out from Boston, but it will be three years too late). In addition, they are still one of the worst rebounding teams in the league DESPITE Jordan grabbing 13.4 rebounds a game (tops in the league). Unless a major trade occurs, Clippers will be lucky to make it to the second round. The talent is there as is the coaching, but they need more. It is now or never for the Clippers. Record 25-18, West No.8 Phoenix Suns: The Suns are a fun team to watch but are not ready for that next level. Led by guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, the team not only lacks a special player who can take over games, but also veteran players to balance out a young roster. While the young roster is a negative, it is also a positive as Phoenix holds the resources to make some moves in the coming months and will be an interesting team to watch at the deadline if and when veteran players come available. If the Suns can hold off the Thunder & Pelicans for the 8th seed, it won’t be a cake walk of a series for the top seed but the first round is the ceiling for Phoenix as currently constructed. The Unknown Record 27-16, West No. 7 San Antonio Spurs: Might be odd to some to place the defending world champions here but the Spurs are always an unsure bet. Coming off two straight Finals appearances, San Antonio’s older roster could be seeing the effects of playing into June the last two seasons. Every season, the pundits count out the Spurs, saying their run has ended, but I cannot say whether it is over or just off to a late start this season. Kawhi Leonard recently returned to the lineup after a hand injury and the team also welcomed back Patty Mills. Health has been a problem early in the season but still hold a playoff spot. If they can be a consistent force going into April, they are not a team any of the top seeds teams want to face in the first round. (Note: In seasons after winning the title, the Spurs have not made it past the second round). Record 21-20, West No. 9 Oklahoma City Thunder: One of the better teams over the past few seasons is the most unfortunate this season. Early season injuries to Kevin Durant AND Russell Westbrook have the Thunder on the outside looking in. After acquiring Dion Waiters, the role of Reggie Jackson has been diminished a bit, leaving the future in question for the point guard as he prepares to enter restricted free agency. It has taken some time to get the team back on the consistent path but if they can stay healthy and catch the Suns for the 8th seed, you are looking at scariest team to play come playoff time. Again that is an IF. Right now the Thunder are hoping to make a second half run to secure a playoff spot and Imagine the Warriors doing all that work only to draw OKC in the first round? But again, that’s the Western Conference. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window) Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.