With the Playoffs beginning in just over two months, let’s take a quick look at the playoff standings in both the Western and Eastern conferences. First we’ll start with the West, and take a look at how each team stacks up.
1. Golden State Warriors – 51-13
The Warriors are continuing to dominate the NBA in a convincing fashion. After an off-season filled with drama, from Mark Jackson being replaced by Steve Kerr, to the Kevin Love trade rumors, this team wasn’t expected to excel to the level they are now. They are not only exciting, but also probably one of the deepest teams in the league. There simply aren’t many teams that have the luxury of having an First Team All-Defensive player coming off the bench, like the Warriors do in Andre Igoudala. With Festus Ezeli finally back after missing significant time this season and last due to injuries, they finally have a bit of insurance if Andrew Bogut gets injured. But it all still hinges on Stephen Curry’s ankles staying strong.
2. Memphis Grizzlies – 45-20
Simply the most underrated playoff team in the NBA. They have a terrific core group in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and Mike Conley Jr., one who has been together for awhile, and has seen a deep playoff run before; they were in the Western Conference finals just two years ago. This is a team that no one wants to match-up against, as they will wear any team down in a seven-game series. With Jeff Green playing solid for them, they shored up the offensive liability’s they were known for in the beginning of the season. Don’t be surprised to see them representing the West in the Finals.
3. Portland Trailblazers – 43-20
Another underrated playoff team, but at least they get a bit of shine in the media thanks to superstar-in-the-making, Damian Lillard. As exciting as he is, the whole team is built around and dependent on LaMarcus Aldridge, who is showing what true sacrifice and leadership is by deciding to continue playing with a torn ligament in his left thumb. That’s what true dedication and heart for the game looks like. Losing Wes Matthews for the season with a torn Achilles could’ve been disastrous, but the trade for Aaron Afflalo have made for a smooth transition, however unwanted it was.
4. Houston Rockets – 43-22
This is one of the hardest playoff teams to judge in the West. On one hand, you have James Harden doing amazing things, playing defense, and generally leading his team to the top of the West, even while Dwight Howard has been out for an extended period of time due to injury. On the other, you have to imagine that in a seven-game series, without Dwight back and able to be the defensive menace that he is capable of being, it seems unlikely that the Rockets could survive past the second-round.
5. Los Angeles Clippers – 42-24
For a team that has had so much hype about it’s championship-contender status for the couple years, this season seems to lack a bit of the luster of seasons past. This is another team like the Rockets that has been winning without it’s franchise big man, although that title could be in dispute after the career season DeAndre Jordan has been having. Chris Paul will be 30 before the playoffs start, and this seems like as crucial a time as any for him to show the world that he can indeed make it deep into the playoffs.
6. Dallas Mavericks – 42-25
This is a team with a formidable starting lineup, and could make life very difficult for a top team in the first or second-round. With a depleted bench however, it feels unlikely that they will make it out of the second-round; it really hinges on the evolution of Chandler Parsons, and if he can turn it up to another level come playoff-time.
7. San Antonio Spurs – 40-24
As Jalen Rose loves to say, “GO SPURS GO!!!”. For a supposedly “old” team, they are still consistently doing what the Spurs do every year, which is win. They may not be a top seed, but no other team in the league knows how to flip the ‘Playoff Switch’ then this team. I don’t expect them to make the Finals for a third time in a row this year, but they will be pushing whatever team they match-up against to the brink. The road to the Finals goes through San Antonio, and it feels like whatever team is going to make the Finals in the West, is the team that knocks the Spurs out of the playoffs.
8. New Orleans Pelicans – 36-29
Bow to the Brow. If the human phenom named Anthony Davis can manage to drag his team to the playoffs, and perhaps even win a first-round series, then Kevin Durant and LeBron James will have some extremely serious competition for title of ‘Best Current Basketball Player’. They’ve beaten OKC three out of the four match-ups this season, so in a tie, they end up with the higher ranking, and have to fight hard for every game until the end of May to keep their playoff hopes alive.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder – 36-29
Right now the Thunder are sorely missing their star player Kevin Durant. After a season riddled with injuries, the reigning MVP still has an uncertain return timeline. Westbrook doesn’t seem to have any problems holding the team together while he’s gone, he does need at least a few games to get into a rhythm with the new teammates the Thunder acquired over the trade deadline. And as anyone who has has surgery for a sport-injury knows, you never come back fully 100% right away; he’s going to need some time to get into his groove, figure out if there is any residual pain, and if so, how to adjust to it so he can still be effective during the playoffs.
That wraps it up for the Western Conference; in the second half of this series, we will examine the (much weaker) Eastern Conference, and which teams are serious contenders.