Pat (PJ) Strathman and CJ Matson dish out their top 5 teams in the NBA’s Western Conference.
By CJ Matson
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
Do you think Seattle Sonics’ fans are crying in despair because their team moved to Oklahoma City and is a legitimate NBA title contender?
I sure hope so because the Thunder are stampeding through their schedule, winning 22 of their 29 games.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to dominate offensively. The dynamic duo make up 49.2 percent of the Thunder’s offense. They’ve only played together for three years, but they’re playing as if they’ve been together for 10 years. The Durant-Westbrook pair has showed why it’s the best twosome in the NBA.
Once again, the West is loaded. The Thunder could have easily advanced to the NBA Finals last season, but lack of experience hurt them. That won’t be an issue for the Thunder this year.
Serge Ibaka and James Harden are the X-factors. Ibaka’s ability to defend and rebound and Harden’s contribution from the bench provide a significant punch to the Thunder. Ibaka leads the NBA in blocks-per-game, and Harden is regard as the best sixth man in the league.
2) Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are the best team in Los Angeles and the second best team in the NBA. Has hell frozen over? How are the Clippers, one of sports worst franchises of all-time, sitting pretty near the top of the West?
Answer: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan
These guys are darn good basketball players who have made the Clippers relevant.
Mo Williams, Caron Butler, Ryan Gomes and Reggie Evans are key contributors that will continue to help the Clippers this season, but the loss of Chauncey Billups to injury is huge.
Billups provided veteran leadership that the Clippers needed. The Clippers are incredibly young, but as talented as any team in the league.
Expect the Clippers to maintain their offensive prowess, but if they can improve defensively, then they go deep in the playoffs.
Right now, the Clippers are 18th in scoring defense, 24th in 3-point field goal percentage defense and 25th in opponents’ turnovers, which means that they aren’t creating any turnovers that could lead to fast-break points.
3) Dallas Mavericks
The defending NBA champions are clearly not as good as they were last season, and they are still a threat to win the West.
The Mavericks are one of the oldest teams in the NBA. Jimi Hendrix once sang a song titled “Are You Experienced”. The Mavericks are definitely an experienced team that will benefit from their last year’s championship run.
The departures of Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea and Caron Butler were big blows, but the Mavericks are deep. Vince Carter, Lamar Odom and Delonte West are capable veterans who understand their roles and can contribute at a modest level.
Dallas revolves around Dirk Nowitzki. The 2011 NBA Finals MVP is, without a doubt, the player ultimately responsible for the direction of the team. If Dirk is performing at a high level, then the Mavericks will be fine, but if Dirk is slumping, then the Mavs will spiral downward.
Nowitzki is aging. He is only averaging 18.2 points-per-game and shooting a dismal 23.6 percent from behind the arc, but with that said, that won’t matter when the Mavs are playing meaningful games.
4) Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets are an offensive juggernaut. Carmelo Anthony’s departure from Denver clearly had no effect on the Nuggets’ offense, but they’ve certainly benefited from the trade.
Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson are the Nuggets’ leading scorers. Six Nuggets average at least 10 points-per-game, including veterans Andre Miller and Al Harrington.
The Nuggets are 2nd in the NBA in scoring, 3rd in assists and 2nd in field goal percentage.
In this era of the NBA, if teams can score points at a high rate like the Nuggets, then they are essentially a playoff team. However, the Nuggets don’t play any defense whatsoever.
As far as I am concerned, the old adage that defense wins championship still holds. The Nuggets must improve their defense if they want to advance far in the playoffs. The Nuggets are T-25th in the NBA in scoring defense, 25th in field goal percentage defense and 29th in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
To add to the Nuggets defensive woes, they are turning the ball over at a high average. Denver averages 16.4 turnovers-per-game, which I 28th in the league.
5) San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are playing exceptional basketball this season. The Spurs’ roster has a perfect mix of youth and experience and are an incredibly balance team.
The Spurs were the top team in the Western Conference last season, but were ousted in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies.
What makes this year’s team any different from last year’s?
Tim Duncan’s best days are long behind him. He can still score, rebound and play solid defense, but he’s a liability now because he’s aged.
Manu Ginobili is finally healthy, but how effective will he be and can he stay healthy? Ginobili and Tony Parker are a lethal when they play together. The Parker-Ginobili pair is one of the best guard combos in the NBA.
The Spurs are very deep. Ten players are averaging at least 20 minutes-per-game.
The Spurs’ record has certainly improved because of their recent winning streak.
However, the Spurs must consistently beat the NBA’s best and advance past the first round of the playoffs. Until they do, I won’t change my opinion of them. I am not convinced that they’re one of the four best teams in the West.
By Pat Strathman
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
Even though the Thunder lost to the Houston Rockets, they still are the Western Conference’s best team. The success, by no surprise, is because of an MVP season by Kevin Durant.
This season, the Durantula averages 27.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Durant is sensational, but every Batman needs their Robin.
Point guard Russell Westbrook answered the call. He averages 22.8 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds.
The spark off the bench comes from James Harden, who averages 16.8 points. Though the Thunder average the league’s third most points, they need to improve their defense if they want to be truly unbeatable.
2) San Antonio Spurs
Calling this team overrated might not be a great idea. The Spurs are the hottest team in the NBA right now.
They do everything well, averaging the 6th most points, 11th most points allowed, and most importantly, the 5th most assists. The Spurs are doing all of this without the sensational shooting guard in Manu Ginobili.
The injury was huge, but the emergence of Tony Parker helped ease the pain. Parker leads the team averaging 19.0 point and 7.8 assists.
Even in his 14th year, Tim Duncan continues to be consistent, averaging 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Add key role players like rookie Kawhi Leonard, sharp shooter Matt Bonner, veteran Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair and Gary Neal, and the Spurs are a balanced team. The only issue might be age, but the Spurs are right on track to a great seed in the playoffs.
I’m going to be honest; I am impressed with the way this team is responding. Coming off a championship season can be tricky, but the Mavericks are still finding ways to win without Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea.
Dirk Nowitzki started slow, but he is starting to hit his stride. The smooth 7-footer averages 18.2 points and 6.1 rebounds. Not unreal, but the Mavs helped him.
Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and newly acquired Vince Carter all average 10 points or more. Even point guard Delonte West has helped.
Great things from the Mavs early on, but can they consistently be balanced and help Dirk? Will Lamar Odom increase his production? Both those questions need to be answered by playoffs.
4) Denver Nuggets
Who would have thought the Nuggets would be good after losing Carmelo Anthony? Well, shouldn’t be surprising with the talent they have.
The Nuggets are a fun team to watch. They lead the league in points-per-game and are 3rd in assists-per-game.
The Nuggets have six players that average 10 points or more. Leading the way is Danilo Gallinari with 17 points. Ty Lawson has been excellent, averaging 15.3 points and 6.3 assists.
The lineup consists with shooters, but the defense is the glaring issue. The Nuggets allow the 26th most points per game, just a shy under 100.
Though offense is great, can they stop the opponent? Time will tell.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers do have the second best record in the Western Conference, but I’m not a believer of Lob City yet.
Yes, they have the poster child in Blake Griffin averaging 21.1 points and 10.8 rebounds. Yes, they have newly-acquired Chris Paul averaging 18.5 points and 9 assists.
This team though still has a big question; who replaces Chauncey Billups?
Mo Williams is averaging 13.7 points, but can he fill in as a reliable replacement for Billups? That’s the biggest question, but until then, Clippers belong here.