I think we can safely say at this point in the season that Golden State and Memphis will be locked into the top two spots in the Western Conference. After that, though, is where things gets interesting.
With between 10 and 14 games left for all teams involved in the Western Conference playoff race, we are getting down to the nitty gritty. This is the time teams will be locking up spots (and both the Warriors and Grizzlies have done just that) while at times resting some of their key players. With Oklahoma City separating itself in its bid for the No. 8 seed, we basically have the field set with the top and the bottom falling into place.
It is the middle of the pack where it gets intriguing, as the Rockets, Blazers, Clippers, Mavericks and Spurs are all scrambling to secure a top-four spot out west and gain home-court advantage in the first round. These are all talented teams, no doubt, with each team having a case to be made as the best team out of this group.
That said, let’s asses the middle of the standings and take a a look at the pros and cons of each team battling for two of the top four spots in the Western Conference playoffs.
Here is how the middle of the NBA Western Conference standings look as of Tuesday:
3. Houston Rockets: 47-23
4. Portland Trailblazers: 44-24
5. Los Angeles Clippers: 46-25
6. San Antonio Spurs: 44-25
7. Dallas Mavericks: 44-27
That’s a jumbled mess. Here’s a team-by-team look.
Pros: Are getting a sensational season from MVP candidate James Harden, as he has put the Rockets on his back and has simply delivered in all facets of the game. Plus, the Rockets will be getting healthy as Dwight Howard is coming back shortly.
Cons: With Howard coming back, there is not much to not to like about the Rockets right now, especially at the level Harden is playing at. A little more commitment to the defensive side of the ball wouldn’t hurt, though.
Pros: Have been getting great seasons from Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge and have played great team basketball all season. Plus, the have been a model of consistency.
Cons: The season-ending injury to Wesley Matthews as well as the lingering injuries to Aldridge, Nicholas Batum and Chris Kaman are certainly reasons to be concerned, as Alex Park writes. Portland already had limited depth to begin with, and if the injuries in particular to Aldridge and Batum fester, it could torpedo the hopes of the Blazers real fast.
Los Angeles Clippers:
Pros: Are getting excellent seasons from Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Plus, they just recently got back the services of Blake Griffin and once he fully acclimates getting back into the swing of things, the Clippers could be in for a great finish.
Cons: Scoring punch from the bench could be and issue if Jamal Crawford’s lingering calf injury keeps him sidelined the rest of the regular season and beyond.
San Antonio Spurs:
Pros: You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that the Spurs’ bread and butter is their experience after being through so many battles over the years. They have the mettle and intestinal fortitude to face any adversity that comes their way. Also, Kawhi Leonard is starting to really getting in gear down the stretch.
Cons: Well, with that experience comes age and sooner or later, the gas will run out on the Spurs, especially as it relates to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Pros: Have a lot of experience also, as Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler are two members of the 2011 championship team, and they can rely on that moxie to propel them toward to greatness.