Sunday , Mar , 30 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

How the West Will Be Won

How the West Will Be Won

With all the talk of the depth of the West, the same contenders will emerge with one absent (the Dallas Mavericks) and two question-marks (the New Orleans Hornets and the Los Angeles Lakers).

Let’s start with the stand-bys:

The San Antonio Spurs are as good as ever and primed again.  They’ve had some embarrassing losses and the toll of time is starting to show – but I emphasize the word “starting”.  These guys are not going to fade away quietly, if at all.  As I write this, they are tied for 1st in the West, only percentage points behind New Orleans.  The addition of Kurt Thomas was an upgrade over last year’s squad, Damon Stoudamire has provided some help (I’m not too excited about him, but he is an upgrade over Jacque Vaughn) and the salty old verterans are saltier than ever (although Robert Horry should be in a zombie movie).

The Phoenix Suns are now officially a better team than they were with Shawn Marion.  All of the “Ifs” in The Big Acquisition have gone from being hopes to being actualities.  As I write this, they are tied with the Lakers for first in the Pacific Division (although LA has the tie-breaker based on two pre-Shaq wins and   a 2 point win during Shaq’s first game back).  They match up better with Shaq against the Spurs and the Lakers, but worse against the running teams.  So, it will really depend on the playoff draw.

The Dallas Mavericks are done.  I’d be surprised if they made the playoffs.  Cuban traded away his bench for Jason Kidd and now the need it.  Cuban also increased his luxury tax – I’d say it would “cripple” most teams, but I’d guess Cuban isn’t too worried about that.  Lastly, Jason Kidd has made even less of an    impact than I thought he would.

The upstarts and question marks:

The Los Angeles Lakers need Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to be healthy and fully-integrated.  Without that, they can be bumped by one of the “also-rans” listed below.  Cases in point: recent losses to the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies.  Without those two guys, this is the same roster and there will likely be the same results.  With these two guys, they are a legit contender.  When the Pau Gasol Heist went down I had forgotten about his injury problems and frail frame.  I think a lot of persons predicting a Western Conference Championship had done the same.  I’m not so certain that Bynum will be able to return to form (the form of his one good half of a season), and this is why Kobe Bryant should have had the pinkie surgery already.

The New Orleans Hornets have a fantastic point guard (that should be MVP), an outstanding starting five but a questionable bench, some great outside shooters, no dominating inside presence but a few guys who scrap and a lanky center that occasionally puts up good numbers, and an up-and-coming power forward.  Many would consider a Western Conference appearance (regardless of the outcome) a successful season and there is bright future ahead.  However, if the officials allow other teams to mug the first 20-10 player since Mitch Richmond and Kevin Johnson, the Hornets’ offense will sputter to a halt.  I saw a statistic during the Boston Celtics game that Paul is responsible for 49% of the Hornets’ buckets through either shooting or assists.  I hope the management for the Hornets is already in the league’s ear about consistent officiating.

The also-rans:

The Utah Jazz need to show they can win on the road.  They are 16-21 on the road and, as of right now, they will not have home-court advantage in the first.  Assuming they survive and player a higher-seeded team, they are in trouble all over again.  Further, there are enough good teams that can steal a home game in Utah.  This is their biggest weakness – other than being an average team in the West.

The Golden State Warriors are the Ross Perot team of the West.