Friday , Mar , 14 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

Can the West Be Won without a Presence in the Middle

Can the West Be Won without a Presence in the MiddleI was catching up on Bill Simmons yesterday (yes, Mondays I spend time torturing myself as penance for the sins of the weekend – good old-fashioned Catholic guilt and shame), when I realized that he said the same thing I’ve been saying – the L.A. Lakers cannot beat the Spurs without Andrew Bynum, and his return is not looking good.

Can a team win the West without a solid low-post presence? I’ve already discussed the Lakers, so let’s move on. In no particular order, here it goes:

The Houston Rockets are on the verge of the second-longest winning streak ever (20), and have done without Yao Ming for the last 7 wins. The new “blue collar” attitude of the role players is serving them well, but Tracy McGrady’s playoff record is what it is and he’s is going to have to carry the team alone. Last year, the Rockets were bumped despite a stellar effort from T-Mac. Will all those hustling little guys (and the tall senior citizen) let him down again? Probably.

The Utah Jazz are inexplicably awful on the road. Common wisdom is that seedings will not matter as much this year due to the competitive nature of the teams this year. However, it may matter for the Jazz. This is their weak link. If they can overcome this weakness, the Carlos Boozer-Mehmet Okur-Deron Williams (two big guys) will serve them well.

The New Orleans Hornets probably took a step back by acquiring Bonzi Wells and Mike James. They have a “deeper” bench in terms of bodies, but not skill. Tyson Chandler does a great job rebounding and pretty good job defending, but he is not an offensive post presence. He’ll get his points, but he cannot abuse teams in the manner that Boozer and Tim Duncan are able to. The Hornets are going to have to rely on Chris Paul to carry the team offensively with his scoring. It can be done, but CP3 may not be fully equipped for this role for a few more years. He’s also going to be very frustrated when the refs start swallowing their whistles and let other teams mug him.

Ericka Dampier is the Dallas Mavericks’ sole post player. Is anyone in Dallas comfortable with this? After last year’s playoffs, I said that Dallas’ run with this squad was over. Further, the addition of J-Kidd hasn’t helped – especially when Avery Johnson refuses to play him.

The Golden State Warriors can beat any team on any given night and can lose to any team on any given night. They are kind of like the Ross Perot of the Western Conference. They can really screw things up for a contender, but no one takes them seriously. Perhaps it’s the lack of a big man.

The San Antonio Spurs are still the team to beat. They’re the champs and not showing many signs that they’ll easily relinquish the title. The addition of Kurt Thomas (and re-addition of Brent Barry) was a great move. He’s a great complimentary player to Tim Duncan and will relieve some of the defensive and rebounding pressure on Timmy, while opening the floor a bit with his mid-range jumper.

The Phoenix Suns? Most agreed that they weren’t going to win with their pre-trade roster. Steve Kerr only gave his team “a puncher’s chance.” If they win, it is only because “The Big If” comes through.

K-Mart and Marcus Camby provide enough in the posts to make the Denver Nuggets a threat (if they get to the playoffs), but their mercurial coach and a less-than-always-on effort from Carmelo Anthony (especially on defense) are going to hurt whatever chances they had.

So, there’s my two cents worth.