The West might be wide open…
Going into the season the general feeling was the Western conference was going to be predictable. Most analysts expected the OKC Thunder or revamped Lakers to win the conference. The San Antonio Spurs were considered the dark horses. The Spurs and Thunder have very good records at the moment. We know about the Laker’s struggles. The west is deep with talent and most hoop fans knew that fact but we all thought The Lakers Thunder and Spurs were a cut above the rest and they might eventually prove us right. It’s mad early but man does it not seem like The Clippers or Grizzlies could win the west?
The Grizzlies are rocking the league’s best record at 8-1. They also have beat every one including a beat down of the reigning champ Miami Heat. The Grizz beat Miami by playing big with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who couldn’t hang by playing small ball. They recently beat the Knicks the same way. Z-Bo is back in beast form and Marc has continued to play at an all-star level. Rudy gay and Mike Conley are still very good (underrated?) if not quite at all-star level and that core group puts this team back on the path they were on two years ago when they almost beat the Thunder in the playoffs. These Grizzlies may be improved with the play of Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington. They give the Grizz more firepower and toughness to a team that already has plenty from Z-Bo, Tony Allen (on Defense) and company.
The clippers are LA’s best team at the moment with a 7-2 record and victories over the Lakers and the Heat (with a limited Wade). Like the Grizzlies their stars have been playing great. Chris Paul is one of the best in the league again and Blake Griffin is showing off his passing skills and playing smarter on defense. And like the Grizzlies the Clippers ascendance into the Western Conference elite has just as much to do with the other guys on their team. First of all, Jamal Crawford is playing out of his mind. Honestly, I don’t even know how he’s doing it. I watched the heat game and Jamal was taking a lot of threes and long 2’s off the dribbles after going through his legs and crossing dudes up. And he was hitting every thing. That shit just looks hard to me and I’m semi-skeptical that he can keep it up all year. It’s amazing though and even more amazing that this off-season was the first in which Jamal actually practiced shooting. The Clippers have more people than that stepping their game up. DeAndre Jordan isn’t lighting people up with his numbers and won’t push for the all-star game like Crawford but has gotten much more consistent and smart this season, on the defensive end and in his scoring which is still limited to dunks. A surprise that’s still on the low is the Clip’s back up point, Eric Bledsoe. In limited minutes Eric is killing it shooting over 50% from the filed after shooting under 40% last season. Dude is a scoring machine all of sudden and is averaging 23 points/40 minutes (10.6 points a game). Did he practice shooting with Jamal over the summer? Nah, actually the dude is going at the rim like crazy (while cutting down his turnovers significantly) from what I’ve seen and is an athletic freak. He already was a stud on the defensive end of the floor lat season and is making a case for most improved player.
The West is a five-team race at the minimum. My other fav team is the Timberwolves (at least in theory) They’re played decent with all of their best guys hurt and I think they’ll be good enough to make the playoffs when Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio return. They’re probably still a year away from serious contention. The Clippers and the Grizz on the other hand, are ready right now.
The Lakers are 5-5 after starting the season 1-4. I think they have quieted the offense is a problem talk before D’Antoni even coached his first game. They lit up Houston and Phoenix for 110+ points in their last two games. Kobe is playing the best basketball of his career (really!), Dwight is still better than 95% of league at 75% health. Pau Gasol is finally starting to knock down some shots and Metta World Peace looks like a professional athlete for the first time in a minute. The bench is still questionable, except for Jordan Hill. That dude gets it done with the offensive boards and the hustle baskets. The defense is the their weakness I suppose but if we look at defensive efficency the Lakers are actually above average. And they’re only gonna get better on D once Dwight gets healthy. Oh yeah, Steve Nash. He’ll make the Lakers better when he returns and Laker fans won’t have to worry how Nash will fit in. D’Antoni will let Steve do his thing. Who’s gonna back Steve up? Will it be Steve Blake who is also injured? Or Chris Duhon who’s been hitting three pointers left and right but some how still sports a ridiculously low player efficiency rating. Or the young buck Darius Morris. So far for me it’s the young buck. The Lakers need dudes who are least semi-athletic and Darius had some really solid games while Steve Nash was out. I’m not sure Daruius will get the job over the veterans but he has shown that he deserves a job in the NBA and that’s mad important for a young and unproven player.