A look at the race in the West
We’re nearing the home stretch and the playoff race is beginning to take shape. There is hot teams, cold teams, and teams who seem pretty set where they are at. We’ll get started at number 1.
1. Dallas Mavericks
Every regular season the Mavericks go on these huge winning streaks and everyone starts to mistake them for contenders. The Mavericks are still the pretenders they’ve been in the past years. They may finish first in the West, but they won’t be in the Finals, because San Antonio will be waiting in the second round.
2. Phoenix Suns
Can’t say enough about Steve Nash, he’s really quieted the doubters who said he wouldn’t do well with his new teammates. Boris Diaw and Eddie House, guys who were having trouble getting playing time last season, are having huge years and have some big contracts in their future thanks to Steve. The countdown to Amare’s return is almost over. Barring any injury to Steve Nash and Shawn Marion (They can take an injury from anyone else) they won’t move from the 2 spot, giving them a significantly easier path to the Western Conference Finals.
3. Denver Nuggets
It’s a race for the sixth seed to see who gets to play the winner of the Northwest division. The Denver Nuggets are hardly as intimidating as the other division leaders and anyone who matches up with them in the first round has a very good shot at sending them home in the first round. Utah is creeping up behind them, but with the quality moves they made at the deadline, this division is Denver’s to win.
4. San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio may have a tough time catching Dallas, but they don’t care. Though they’ll be a fourth seed, they will still have home court advantage over any other team because their record will be better. Even if Dallas has home court, San Antonio should feel real comfortable because Dallas has yet to show they can beat them.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
This team is for real, and whoever matches up against them should be terrified. They’ve got Maggette back, Brand playing at an MVP level, some added depth with the trade for Vladimir, and some playoff veterans. The 5th seed is probably where they stay. If they get San Antonio in the first round, their great season is capped off with a first round exit. If they get Dallas, it could be capped off with a second roundloss to San Antonio but a quality series win against Dallas.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis continues to be a solid playoff team every year. Jerry West has given Mike Fratello a quality team and he’s coaching them to their potential. It’s hard to see them moving up because the teams ahead of them are better, but they don’t fall any lower than where they’re at right now.
7. Oklahoma City Hornets
The surprise team of the year may be running out of gas. They’ve been pretty unimpressive after the all star break, and them making the playoffs isn’t the given that many thought it was pre all star break. Getting David West back will help, but the Hornets seem like they’re headed more towards the lottery than the playoffs.
8. Los Angeles Lakers
If Kobe averages 45 from here on out, the Lakers could move up to the 7th or 6th seed. If he averages 35, they probably barely make the playoffs. Lamar Odom seemingly refuses to be the second scoring option that he needs to be in order for this team to become anything but mediocre. If the Lakers can bring in Jim Jackson and maybe Anfernee Penny Hardaway to come in and give some help in the back court, the Lakers will solidify their spot in the playoffs, instead of waivering with it like they’re doing now.
Team likely to make it in:
Houston Rockets got off to a terrible start, and they’re having some internal issues, but this team is talented. Tmac and Yao is still one of the best duos in the league when they can get on the same page. They’ve got their work cut out for them, but Yao is really starting to come into his own and Tmac’s getting it going too. If the Hornets keep up on their current track, the Lakers will move up and Houston will take that 8th spot.
Utah is in better position as of right now to sneak in there, but they don’t have any consistency at the point guard spot, are still looking for a shooting guard, and still have trouble staying healthy. With Carlos Boozer coming back strong however, this is a team that could very well not only make the playoffs, but win the division.
Sacramento is only a game and a half behind the Lakers right now and their play is beginning to pick up. They’re starting to utilize Ron Artest’s offensive abilities properly and they certainly have a good shot at it, but they’re still battling inconsistency and this likely ends up the first lottery season during the Maloof ownership era.
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