Okay then, time to take a look at all the teams in the West that aren’t the Memphis Grizzlies. Now, I should mention, this is a very new feature, and I’m still figuring out how I’d like to do it each week. I had previously gone with a “who’s hot/who’s not” type of approach, and I think that can be effective, but I found it somewhat limited if only because sometimes, it ends up being the same teams week in and week out. Spurs good, Hornets bad. We get it.
So, I’d like to try just presenting this in the form of a regular article than just talks a bit about any noteworthy goings-on with each team, whether that translates to a winning mark, a losing mark, or just an interesting stretch of games regardless of the team’s record.
Okay, then. On with the show!
The Mavs have certainly been impressive lately, winning their last two games, and getting 40 points from O.J. Mayo in a win over Houston on Saturday. Before the season, this team struck me as a huge potential sleeper, but then they suffered a major loss when Dirk went down. They’ve been decent without him, though, putting up an 11-10 mark so far this year. The question is how the team will be affected when Dirk returns. Ideally, he’ll provide them with a huge boost and turn them from a fringe playoff team into a potential contender. The problem with this is that we don’t know how his return affects team chemistry. Does O.J. continue his high production level with Dirk returning to the lineup. Does Chris Kaman become less efficient, and more uncomfortable with Dirk taking possessions away from him? This will be fascinating to watch as it unfolds. With that said, I can only be so scared of a team whose starting point guard is Derek Fisher. How does that even happen in this day and age?
The Rockets have also been interesting in recent days. They lost their last two to the Mavs and Spurs, despite getting 39 from James Harden on Saturday, and 38 from Jeremy Lin last night. Lin’s surprising Linsanity revival against San Antonio just happened to come with James Harden out of the lineup. With Lin struggling most of the season, many have speculated that it was because he was having difficulty sharing the ball with Harden. There could be some truth to this. he thrived in New York when he didn’t have to share the ball with anyone. Problems started when Melo came back and things got clogged. That’s the thing with Lin; it seems like he can only be a serious contributor if everything runs through him. Otherwise, he’s tentative; he passes up shots he would normally take, and then he ends up taking bad shots. He’s less confident when he feels like he has to defer to someone else. The problem is, he’s not quite good enough to carry a team by himself. There’s two solutions to this problem; put him on a team with a solid supporting cast that happens to not have any true high-volume shooters (the Hawks are a good example of this), or come off the bench. It would be an amusing irony if Lin lost his starting job to fellow ex-Knick Toney Douglas, but he would likely be far more productive for Houston if he embraced the 6th man role.
Meanwhile, the Lakers continue to struggle with a decidedly underwhelming 9-12 mark. I know they’re still figuring out how to play with each other, I know they don’t have Steve Nash, and I know they’re still getting used to D’Antoni, but still…what if the Lakers just aren’t that good? I think it’s a legitimate question at this point. Yes, they’ll be a playoff team, but I’m starting to think they could go down in the first round. If you can win games with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard on your team, how good can you really be. This team would lose to Memphis in the playoffs. They would also lose to the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, and at this point, probably the Warriors. They need Nash back, but more importantly, they need things to actually work when he gets back. Let’s consider a few things about Nash:
1. He’s 39 years old
2. He’s missing his 20th game tonight, and he’s going to miss more
3. He thrives when he has control of the offense, and he might struggle sharing with Kobe
4. He said yesterday that he can’t run at full speed right now…which really hurts when you’re trying to run a high octane offense.
Nash is one of my favorite players, and he’s truly amazing when he’s on his game, but there’s no guarantee his return will spark an epic run of Lakers wins, To put it gently, this team is in a bit of trouble.
The Spurs continue to do what they always do, keep the machine running and reel of tons of wins. As much as I want the Grizz to grab the #1 seed, I think San Antonio is the front-runner for that right now. they’re just too deadly in the regular season, and they somehow never seem to age. If Tim Duncan and Ginobili are both borderline all-stars into their 40s, it wouldn’t shock me. Nothing this team could do would shock me at this point.’
The Warriors are a surprising 14-7. They are going to regress slightly, if only because I don’t see them as a 55-27 team. They will make the playoffs, though. And they should be pretty dangerous. Their offense – in addition to being ridiculously fun to watch – is also incredibly explosive and can go on long runs at any point in the game. The chemistry between Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry is amazing, which gives them a scary second unit, even if it isn’t as deep as it could be. Curry is finally healthy and having his breakout year – he might even be an all-star. It’s funny how time apart can make you forget how good someone is, but boy has he reminded us. Klay Thompson’s game is similar to Monta Ellis, but he doesn’t jack up so many shots, so he doesn’t hurt the team’s cohesion the way Monta often did. His shooting has been a bit off this year, but he should improve as the season goes on, and when he’s really on his game he can be deadly. David Lee is his usual self; not a great defender, but good for close to a 20-10 every night. It’s easy to forget what he does, or write him off do to his weak defense, but there are few power forwards in the league who can match him in terms of reliability.
If Bogut actually does manage to contribute significantly this season, they could become even scarier than they are now. I would be slightly concerned about how his return would affect team chemistry, but I think any lingering problems here would be gone after a few games. Plus, the ability to bring Festus Ezeli off the bench would be intriguing, since it would give him a chance to polish his game against some less-skilled competition. His defense is good, but his offense is sorely lacking. Going against some bench guys could improve his confidence in that area.
The Warriors are also lucky enough to have three rookies contributing significantly – Barnes, Ezeli, and Draymond Green. Admittedly, Barnes has done far more than the other two, but they all have potential. Green is a great rebounder, and a strong, physical player. If he can start shooting better, he could be a huge part of their bench. He was pretty bad last night, shooting 0-8 from the floor and failing to score a point. Still, he had 9 rebounds in 19 minutes, so it was hardly all bad.
The Wolves were a popular pick to make the leap to the playoffs, but they’ve had some growing pains. Kevin Love continues to be dissatisfied with the direction the team is going in, and the possibility of him leaving or asking for a trade continues to wash over the team. Still, when they get Rubio back, they could be pretty dangerous. The problem is, the West is deep enough, that even the tandem of Rubio and Love would hardly guarantee them a playoff spot. If the Wolves want to make their first postseason appearance of the post KG era, they’re going to have to play a lot tougher than they are now.
The Hornets/Pelicans continue to struggle without Anthony Davis, but they do have huge silver lining in the production of Ryan Anderson. Many people thought his breakout year in Orlando last season was a fluke, and he’d regress considerably New Orleans. if anything, the opposite has been true; he’s been even better, jacking threes left and right, while putting up 18 points and 7 boards a game. Unfortunately, no one else on the team has been able to produce much lately. The return of Davis will likely mean Anderson goes back to his 6th man role, where he can thrive even more. If the Hornets continue to struggle even with Davis, Anderson would be an intriguing trade chip. The amount of damage he could o on a legitimate contender is startling to think about.
The Suns remind me a little bit of last year’s Wizards, except not quite as bad. It’s a team with several intriguing players that don’t make a whole lot of sense playing together. Dragic and Gortat are both very underrated, but they haven’t been able to carry this team. Michael Beasley has been just dreadful, and frankly, it looks like we can reach the point of giving up on him being an above-average NBA player. He just doesn’t have it.
The Jazz haven’t changed much from last year. A tough, talented team that lacks the personnel to do any serious damage in the playoffs. They have a big backcourt that can also score, but they lack that one player who can truly carry them. Still, Mo Williams is playing he best basketball since he played with Lebron, so that’s something worth celebrating.
There’s only so much you can say about the Thunder. They’re good, and they’re going to be good for the next decade. Kevin Durant has become even scarier with his improved passing, while Russell Westbrook has shaken off his rough start and looks as deadly as ever. It’s hard to believe people were worried about Kevin Martin replacing James Harden. Maybe he’s not quite as well-rounded as Harden, but he’s an amazing shooter who can put up 23 a night. How did you not think that was going to work out?
Okay, I know there’s a few teams left, but none of them have done anything all that noteworthy in the past week. Well, except for the Clippers benefitting from Lamar Odom being slightly less awful than usual lately. I feel bad for that guy. It really seems like the whole situation with the Lakers messed him up big time. Or he just got old. Who knows.
As for the Blazers, Nuggets, and Kings, the former continues to underachieve while the ladder two have actually over-achieved a bit lately. Portland and Sacramento both have talent, but struggle because they’re too young, and both lacking in cohesion. We’ve seen both teams do better lately, especially the Blazers, who have the front runner for ROY in Damien Lillard, as well as a surprisingly productive J.J. Hickson, who may have found his true destiny by becoming a center. As for Sacramento, Demarcus Cousins have enough talent htat he should be able to get you some wins, even if he is a huge headcase. Also, Jimmer is shooting waaaay better. They need to give him more minutes, turn him into a 6th man. Jimmer-mania will live I tell you!!
Okay, I’m losing my sanity. See you all next week.