The two NBA conferences are disproportionate. The west is heavy with a plethora of the league’s best talent. Only nine games seperate the first and fourteenth spots. Three and a half games separates first from seventh. It is stacked and the parity remains highly appreciable. Only the Suns are definitely out of the race for the playoffs.
1st Western Conference
1st Northwest Division
The Nuggets are enjoying the 1st seed in the western conference. They have surpassed all expectation. They started the season 9-1 and have won 7 of their last 10. They are 5-0 against division rivals and have the western conference’s best home record at 16-3. Head coach Michael Malone is in the running for coach of the year, and rightfully deserves it. The Nuggets were heavily underestimated by many after their play the last few seasons. But, behind Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and crew they have become a dominant player in the first half of the 2018-19. The question is can they contain it? Paul Millsap has already been injured, breaking his toe. Can he stay healthy? They have shown so far that other teams better take them seriously. If they keep it, they will most definitely not be enjoying and early summer. Sorry, Nurkic.
Golden State Warriors:
2nd Western Conference
1st Pacific Division
The Warriors haven’t looked as dominate this year. They miss the presence of Javale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, and David West in the paint terribly, are suffering at the hands of the deterioration of Draymond Green, and have been held back a bit by injuries. Damian Jones is out for the season with a pectoral injury. They are waiting for DeMarcus Cousins to come back from an Achilles injury. He has set January 18th as his return.Their other stars have taken turns on the injury wagon this season.
Still, don’t be fooled. They seem almost bored after winning a handful of O’Brien trophies, and I daresay are relaxing their way through the season. They started 10-1, had a four game losing streak in November, and have won 6 of their last 10 games. They are 1st in the NBA in FG%, assists, and steals. Don’t expect them to lose too many more games. Especially,when Cousins returns from injury. They will be a force to be reckoned with. I feel sorry for whoever has to face them in the 1st round, come the playoffs. Make that any round.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
3rd Western Conference
2nd NW Division
The Thunder have played better than expected. Paul George is playing impeccable basketball in his second season with the team. Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple double with 21.1 pts, 11 rebounds, and 10.1 assists per game. Dennis Schroder has worked out, and chemistry has awarded them with a .625 record. They started the season 6-4 (and 0-4 in their first four games)and have won their last 6 out of 10. They are 1st in the NBA in offensive rebounds and assists. We will see if they can sustain it. With a tough second half of the season schedule we may see them drop.
Los Angeles Clippers:
4th Western Conference
2nd Pacific Division
The Clippers for the past few years have been the better of the two teams sharing the Staples Center. With the arrival of Lebron James to the Lakers, it appeared that might change. However, the Clippers are sitting ahead of the Rockets in fourth place. No one expected them to be as good as they gave been. Everyone has been waiting for them to drop, but they have been steady in their play. And, they have done it without a star on their team, though Tobias Harris may as well be one. With a mixture of youth and veteran role players, Doc Rivers has quietly coached a successful first half of the season. They started out 6-4 and have won 6 of their last 10 games. They are 1st in the NBA in made and attempted free throws per game, with 23.5/29.2. They are on track to finish better than their 42-40 record from last year, after trading Blake Griffin and watching Jordan head to Dallas. We will see if it is sustainable.
5th Western Conference
1st Southwest Division
The Rockets have underperformed. Shipping out Ariza and Mbah A Moute hurt them. The Carmelo Anthony saga was a year in the making, and lasted less than two months. He hurt the team more than helped and has since been benched awaiting a trade or release. Injuries to both Chris Paul and James Harden have hampered them. They started 4-6, but have won 8 of their last 10. They are 1st in the NBA in 3 pt attempts and makes with 15.1/42.8 per game. They can burn anyone if their thrusters are allowed to get started. Look for them to tighten their grip as they make a run for the top of the west. As much as is disliked, don’t underestimate the weird beard.
San Antonio Spurs:
Tied 6th Western Division
2nd Southwest Division
The Spurs finally said goodbye to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They traded all-star Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar Derozan. Many expected the Spurs to cool and for their perennial winning ways to cede. They started out 6-4, then struggled through November and the beginning of December. They found their way under the best coach in the league, Gregg Popovich and have won 8 of their last 10. The Spurs are 1st in the NBA in both 3pt% and FT%. LaMarcus Aldridge has struggled to make a place for himself in the shadow of Tim Duncan, and has played better this season, after his play seemed to deteriorate. Derozan has finally gotten comfortable. Moral: Don’t ever count out a Popovich coached team.
Portland Trail Blazers:
Tied 6th Western Conference
3rd Northwest Division
The Blazers started 7-3 and climbed to the top spot in the west before struggling with a hard schedule in November and December. They have won 6 out of their last 10. They currently sit in 7th place after tie breakers in the west at 24-17, just 3.5 games out of 1st.
CJ McCollum has been in a slump most of the season. Moe Harkless can’t get past the soreness in the knee he had surgery on at the beginning of the summer in order to remove a loose body. The bench has struggled terribly, with Nik Stauskas and Zach Collins still in funks. Seth Curry after a slow start, coming back from a season off, has finally got his legs about him, and is starting to make a difference. The Blazers are 9-0 when he scores at least 9 points.
Another strange streak the Blazers have is winning/losing games based on the 3rd quarter. They are 24-0 when leading after the 3rd, and 0-17 when trailing after the 3rd. The last team to do this was the Washington Wizards, who finally broke the streak after winning their 42nd game of the season after trailing in the 3rd.
Jake Layman has been bright spot on the team this season. After seeing very limited minutes the last few seasons. He worked hard over the summer, making a jump to the starting lineup to replace the injured Harkless. He showed sparks of his improved game during that tenure, but it has been of late, that he has become a beacon off the bench, with his quickness, three point efficiency, and a well needed boost of energy. He is Portland’s best cutter by far. Look for his minutes to increase again into the 2nd half of the season.
Meyers Leonard, now known as “The Hammer” has played better this season. He is Portland’s second best 3 point shooter and has taken to rebounding and throwing down monstrous dunks. Portland still needs to find a way to work Lillard and McCollum out of screens. Their ball movement has been mostly poor this season, though it has gotten better as of late.
The Blazers have been a 2nd half of the season team. Last season after the halfway point, after a slow start, they went on a 13 game winning streak and finished 49-33. They are on pace to surpass number that this season. Last year they were division champions. This year, they are stuck behind OKC and hot handed Denver. Can they make the run to take the Northwest again?
Los Angeles Lakers:
8th Western Conference
3rd Pacific Division
Let’s not kid ourselves, minus Lebron James the Lakers are the same team as last year, as can be seen due to his recent absence to nurse a groin injury.They are 2-5 without him and 20-14 with him. Lonzo Ball is highly overrated. Sophomore Kyle Kuzma has cooled off after having a breakout rookie season. They don’t have a great supporting cast, but with Lebron, they will likely make the playoffs, if that means he has to drag them there.
Tied 9th Western Conference
4th Pacific Division
The Kings have impressed this year. After several seasons of it appearing general manager Vlade Divac didn’t know left from right, with his strange trades and signings, there is finally something coherent here. The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley and he has fit in with the rest of the Kings youth. Sitting tied in 9th in an unpredictable west , with a winning home record, and a nearly winning road record, opponents are starting to pay attention and take them more seriously. The kings need more experience and probably won’t make the playoffs this year, but who knows. They started the season 6-4, but have lost 6 of their last 10 games. Looks like the Kings maybe be cooling off.
GRADE: B –
Tied 9th Western Conference
Tied 4th Northwest Division
The Jazz have struggled this year after a breakout year. They looked to be one of the more dominant teams in the west, but Sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell has had a terrible second season. Ricky Rubio has also been in a terrible slump. These struggles and an injured Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have lagged behind. They started the season 4-6 and sit tied for 9th place. Expect them to have a far better second half of the season. They have won 6 of their last 10 games.
Tied 9th Western Conference
Tied 4th Northwest Division
The Timberwolves finally made the playoffs last year, but couldn’t get passed issues with star guard Jimmy Butler, after a bad start to the season (4-6). They traded him to the 76ers for Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Their woes didn’t leave with Butler. After a short winning spree, they sank again in the loss column. Days ago, the Timberwolves fired head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Wolves will be glad when this wreck of a season is over. They aren’t out of the playoffs yet, but interim coach Saunders likely won’t win any more than Thibodeau did. They need to keep building around Towns.
New Orleans Hornets:
12th Western Conference
3rd Southwest Division
The Pelicans looked like they were done last year after DeMarcus Cousins went down, but got hot after trading for Nikola Mirotic, and rode the energy to the second round of the playoffs. Many thought they would a dangerous team this season. But, after trading Rajon Rondo (They miss him) to the Lakers for Julius Randle, they just haven’t looked the same. They started 4-0, but then proceeded to go on a six game losing streak. They haven’t quite found their way back. While it is possible they can make a run, it looks like the Pelicans are more focused on trading for better pieces to appease star Anthony Davis, who could decide to leave in free agency.
Tied 13th Western Conference
4th Southwest Division
The Grizzlies failed to put the right pieces around an aged Marc Gasol and Michael Conley. They have some talented youth, but they just don’t have a complete picture. They won 6 of their first 10 but have fizzled out losing 8 of their last 10. It is long past time to trade Gasol and Conley and start over. This season is over.
Tied 13th Western Conference
5th Southwest Division
The Mavericks are ending one era and beginning another. This is Dirk Nowitzki’s farewell season before retires. The Mavericks welcomed their new future star when they traded up in the draft to take gem Luka Doncic. Doncic has played star level basketball in his first season, and looks only to get better. He is a lot of fun to watch. The Mavericks signed Deandre Jordan in the offseason. It will be a few seasons of rebuild before they compete again. But, Doncic is a win in itself.
15th Western Conference
5th Pacific Division
The Suns are disappointed in their rookie big man Deandre Ayton, after taking him first in the draft. His college play has not translated well in the NBA, and it’s been a rude awakening. They Suns have an assembly of youth after trading veterans Trevor Ariza and Jared Dudley as well as buying out Tyson Chandler. They are invested in the draft, aiming for another #1 pick, and hoping for the development of their youth. There is a drought in the desert and it isn’t ending soon.
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