Monday, November 17, 2008

NBA: Top 5 Teams in the Western Conference

Well, more has happened since our post on the Top 5 Teams in the Eastern Conference, but I think we pretty much know how the Western Conference is broken down. Let's go ahead and hit it.

1. Los Angeles Lakers (7-1) - Dominant. Outside of the loss to the Pistons the other night, the Lakers have been great. They continue to dominate games in waves. We all know that they are lead by the best player in the game, Kobe Bryant, but they can go almost 12 deep. The size of Andrew Bynum has been a great add because it allows Gasol to play the 4 and moves Odom to the 6th man. They still have Trevor Ariza, Vlad Radmanovich, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, and Luke Walton who hasn't worked himself back into the lineup yet. This team is odds on to be in the Finals this year, but it will come down to Odom yet again. Does he embrace his 6th man role, or does he let it get to him and become a cancer/trade bait before the break?

2. Utah Jazz (6-4) - Yes the Suns have a better record, but let's wait to get to them. The Jazz are quietly starting the year the same way they normally do. They beat people and then they win the basketball game. This team stumbled a little with the injury to Deron Williams, but he is now getting back into shape. They also got Matt Harpring back and that goes back to my 'beat people and then they win the basketball game' line earlier. These guys normally don't have too many big injuries that require people to be out substantial parts of the season so I expect them to always be in it and battle for the Western Conference title. I have never been much of a Jazz fan, but the newer version of Stockton to Malone (Williams to Boozer) is going to help them make some waves. 3 point shooting will be their Achilles heel.

3. Phoenix Suns (8-3) - The Big Cactus has found the fountain of youth, or at least a reasonable facsimile. Shaq has played this year with a vengeance that the Suns hope can last. They are also giving the Big Cactus days off on back to back games, which should help. Amare Stoudamire looks unstoppable. He has developed that mid range jumper and we all know what he does when he gets it to the rim. The fact that he looks interested in playing defense scares me, because he could be more of a beast than he is if that ends up panning out. The same cast, Nash, Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell, and Boris Diaw are playing well. The season will hinge on Boris Diaw and Matt Barnes. So far so good with Barnes, he's a Shawn Marion light kind of player (a little defense, a little scoring, a little running, and a little dunking). Boris Diaw has got to realize that he can't be covered and demand the ball. If a fire is lit under him, constantly, for the year, the Suns will have some smooth sailing.

4. Denver (6-4) - With the addition of Chauncey Billups, I see this team playing a lot better. Billups provides that calming influence at the point and someone that can get the scorers the ball when and where they need it. All of the bigs on Denver (Nene, Kenyon Martin, Linus Kleiza, Chris Andersen) have played better with a real point guard on the floor. This team has to find a way to play some defense and convince JR Smith that he is a good 3 point shooter, but he can be much more of a weapon if he starts taking the ball to the rack a little more. This is the team to watch. If they stay healthy, they could be a team that you don't want to see during the playoffs.

5. Houston (6-4) - This new Big 3 (Artest, McGrady, Yao) hasn't translated into domination as of yet but it can work. If this team stays healthy, a big if with any team that has Yao and T-Mac, they are going to be one of the top 3 teams in the West. Artest gives them that banger and hard nosed guy, or 'street cred' that they have needed in the past. They have the depth at guard but not in the pivot, unless you're talking about bringing a lot of 6' 8" to 6' 9" guys off the bench to player center. The biggest surprise thus far has been the play of Aaron Brooks who, despite his lack of size, is the fearless leader off the bench for the Rockets. They've also done all of this without Shane Battier who is still mending from ankle surgery. This team has to work on gelling and praying that injuries don't derail their attempt at a title.

Did your team make the top 5? If not should they have? Let your voice be heard.

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