NBA: A look at the Western Conference at the Break

Feb. 21, 2005, midnight | By Adith Sekaran Isamu Bae | 15 years, 11 months ago

Spurs favorites to win it all

Northwest Division

Adith Izzy
The surprising Seattle Supersonics are on top of this division and third in the West with a record of 35-15. Led by two All-Star selections Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the Sonics have transformed into one of this year's pleasant surprises. The Sonics began the season super hot winning 17 of their first 20 games and have cooled down just a tad since then. The story of the Sonics has been the play of the teammates who have stepped up. Luke Ridnour, Vladmir Radmanovic and Antonio Daniels are averaging over ten points a game to go along with the 20 points from Lewis and Allen. The team is well coached by Nate McMillan and will fight their way into the playoffs. However they lack the big man to advance in the deep West. Seattle Supersonics The Sonics sped out to a quick start, but they have slowed down considerably, although they still lead their division by a comfortable margin. The ranged shooting of Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic (a combined 350 threes) has helped the Sonic outscore opponents by an average of 4.3 points. The reason they're winning this year as opposed to last year? Easy, they're actually out-rebounding their opponents 40.5 to 37.7. The Sonics have plenty of hope for the second half of the season, as their big men have contributed solid, consistent numbers. The big question will be Ray Allen's contract (a distraction) and the streaky shooting of their outside game. While the Sonics have enough jump-shooters to find the hot-hand, it is no given that there will be a hot-hand every game, and they do not have enough of an offensive inside presence to make up for a cold streak.
he Minnesota Timberwolves have been a major disappointment at 500. The T-Wolves were supposed to extend last year's momentum where they advanced to the Western Conference Finals and have another solid season. However too many egos on one roster cannot exist and with three stars, Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. Sprewell and Cassell are entering contract years and this is always very positive for the team or very negative. In this case, Cassell has been injured and is scoring five points less than last year and handing out 1.5 less assists. Sprewell claims that $14 million is not enough to feed his kids and is not contributing. He is scoring six points below his career average, while also grabbing fewer rebounds and dishing out fewer assists. Garnett is still having a Most Valuable Player (MVP) caliber season but without any help this team is nothing. Hopefully new coach Kevin McHale will be able to revitalize this team for a postseason run, however right now they do not appear to be ready. Minnesota Timberwolves How far the mighty have fallen? The T-Wolves had NBA Championship aspirations entering the season but now simply wish to remain over .500. Coach Flip Saunders has been fired and the Wolves are wasting away a spectacular effort by Kevin Garnett (22.1 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.39 bpg). The biggest problem for this team, believe it or not, is rebounding and scoring. Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell are combining for 5.5 rebounds and 16.9 points per game, or in other words, squat. A major roster reshuffle is imminent as the team has a very low chance of even making the playoffs. The second half is not going to look very clean. Unless Cassell can prevent picking up nagging injuries every other game and help the T-Wolves back to respectability, he and Sprewell will likely be vanishing by the trade deadline. Roster re-shuffles, namely starting Wally Szerbiack and Eddie Griffin and Troy Hudson will likely follow.
The Denver Nuggets, 24-29, have made their second coaching change of the season and now have proven George Karl at the helms. Karl is an experienced coach and will probably bring the Nuggets back to their winning ways. The Nuggets have more talent on their roster than other teams that includes, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Nene. However, none of them having producing as they are capable. Anthony's numbers are impressive but cannot be put on the same page as his friend, James. Anthony is averaging just under 20 points with 5.7 rebounds a game. Camby is fourth in the leagues in blocks, 2.68, but averages only 9.9 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. Injuries have also ravaged the Nuggets as they lost Voshon Lenard, their starting shooting guard, for the season before the season began. Anthony, Nene and Camby have all missed stretches of games. Karl has the team winning again but how much ground they can make up in the West remains a question. Denver Nuggets The Nuggets are also another disappointing team in a very strange division. Despite adding attitude, hustle and talent in Kenyon Martin, the Nuggets seem to have regressed. The Nuggets are being beaten on the board (41.1 to 41.7) and are giving up far too many out-side shots to opponents (they've hit 181 threes as a team while having given up 287). Those aren't numbers en route to victory. The Nuggets have begun picking up the pieces of their wounded season after hiring George Karl as coach. Second-year SF Carmelo Anthony has begun working on his jump-shot and actually raised his FG% to .406, and the team has focused greater effort on rebounding and not giving up second-chance points. An up-tempo offense has returned to the Mile High City, giving Denver fans reason to hope for a successful second half. However, the Nuggets are well behind the race for the playoffs, meaning they'll need a whole lot of help to get there. Unfortunately the 8th place team is getting back Kobe Bryant, so this season looks very bleak.
The Portland Trail Blazers did not make the playoffs last season for the first time in a while. However, the first half of this season indicates that trend of postseason misses might continue. The Blazers have played without Shareef Abdur-Rahim who was involved in the trade for Wallace. Zach Randolph has been playing well but has also missed games leaving the Blazers with undersized guards to run the team. As talented as Damon Stoudemire, rookie Sebastian Telfair and Nick Van Exel are, they cannot do better than 21-30 by themselves. Portland Trail Blazers The Blazers are led in scoring and rebounding by a player who is on the bench because he can't defend and find whatever success they can by relying on an aging Nick Van Exel. Those aren't going to get victory in the Western Conference and, not surprisingly, the Blazers sport a 21-30 record heading into the break. Perhaps the most telling of Portlands' struggles is Theo Ratliff's paltry 2.59 bpg, as he is in the starting lineup solely for his defense. They're being outscored by an average of 2.5 points, which is bad news given the Blazers have sacrificed offense (Zach Randolph) for defense (John Pryzbilla). Expect some dealing before the trade deadline, as the Blazers must unload Shareef Abdur-Raheem and think about their future. The team has absolutely no identity and must find one soon.
The Utah Jazz are another team ruined by injuries. Their main offseason acquisition of Carlos Boozer has worked out as Boozer is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds. However, the Jazz had a long losing streak without their best player, Andrei Kirilenko and thus their record stands at 17-35. Next season Jazz fans. Utah Jazz Another disappointing team in this relatively disappointing division. The Utah Jazz have definitely been destroyed by the injury to Andrei Kirilenko, but the underwhelming play of their former point guard (Carlos Arroyo) and their power forward (Carlos Boozer) also have led to a paltry 17-35 record. That's pretty bad. The loss of AK47 has led unsurprisingly to an almost non-existant defense (they're giving up 99.1 points per game) that, statistically, hardly makes sense. The Jazz shoot a higher FG%, out-rebound, out-pass opponents and still wind up with a -3.5 points differential. The reason for that is, like the Nuggets, lack of perimeter defense. Opponents have scored a startling 328 threes against the Jazz while they have only hit 163. Also, opponents have shot 270 more free throw attempts and have converted 220 more. Formula for failure. The second half of the season looks somewhat better as AK47 has returned, but playoffs? Naw.
Pacific Division
Adith Izzy
The Phoenix Suns own the best record in the Pacific division and the second best record in the West and league at 41-13. The addition of Nash had made this the best basketball team to watch on television. The Spurs are fundamentally better but the Suns have the potential to score 150 points a night. Their starting five consists of three Al-Stars, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Nash. The other two, Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson, are just as talented. Each of these players averages over 16 points a game largely due to Nash's 11.5 assists a game. Stoudemire is averaging 26.2 points and 8.7 rebounds. While the team is better on the defensive end than Nash's old team, the Mavericks, there is still room for improvement. With solid defense, this team has a shot at the title. Phoenix Suns The Sun have gone running ahead to second place in the Western Conference (would have been first if not for the loss to the Mavericks right before the break) greatly due to the incredible play of Steve Nash (16.4 ppg on .511 FG%, 11.5 apg). Amare Stoudemire has emerged as a monster presence inside with 26.2 ppg on .57 FG% and the Suns have found a plenty of out-side shooting in Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Jim Jackson and newly-acquired Walter McCarty. Shawn Marion has continued chipping in his all-around stats (19.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.13 spg, 1.43 bpg), giving way to one of the most dynamic offensive teams the league has seen in a long time (averaging 110.2 ppg). The biggest problem, and what makes the second-half of the season worthy of weary, is that the team is liable to fatigue-induced break-downs. Marion and Johnson average over 39 minutes per game and Nash has a history of wearing down by the playoffs. Backup PG Leandro Barbosa only averages 14.7 minutes per game and cannot keep up the tempo of the game at all- in fact, Barbosa hardly plays at all anymore. For those thinking the Suns have a legitimate shot at the title, watch Suns vs. Spurs games and think about the wearing-down of Steve Nash before speaking.
The Sacramento Kings have always been playoff bound and this year are sitting on top of a 33-20 record. The Kings have lost backup point guard Bobby Jackson for the season due to an injury and have the thinnest bench for the Kings in recent history. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby and Brad Miller have elevated their game to a level such that they would be All Stars if not for the strength of the West. Their sharpshooter, Peja Stojakovic, has missed games but his return will ease the rest of the team. The Kings have never advanced to the NBA title despite getting close several years. Unfortunately for the Kings, the West is too strong that they will need a deeper bench to progress. Sacramento Kings The Kings dealt veteran leader and defensive specialist Doug Christie for offensive firepower in Cuttino Mobley, but the deal has left some heads scratching. Team chemistry has been absolutely messed with (Webber vs. Stojakovic was already a problem, so now the team trades away one of Webber's best friends?). Consequently, the Kings are on a 2 game slide and have gone 3-7 over the last 10 games. The injury to sixth man Bobby Jackson was expected to be a big hit, but no one could have expected the team to have been destroyed this much. The second-half of the season looks pretty bleak for this team, too. Chris Webber has been phenomenal so far, but he is like a walking time-bomb just waiting to be hit by a big injury. The return of Bobby Jackson is possible, but what then? Are the Kings going to become the next Phoenix Suns by scoring 110 points per game? The management seem to have no clue what to do with this club and it is definitely showing.
The Los Angeles Lakers are still competing in the West but not at the same level as before. Kobe Bryant and company does not produce the same success and Bryant and O'Neal. However, the rest of the Lakers remained at 500 even without Bryant, who was injured for a few weeks. Bryant is having one of the best seasons in his ninth season. He is only behind Iverson in points per game with 27.8 and is averaging a career high 6.6 assists a game. He had four triple doubles this season which is second in the league. Lamar Odom is back in Los Angeles after a one year break with the Miami Heat. Odom has been Bryant's most consistent assistant averaging a double double, 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds a night. The Lakers will hang on to make the playoffs but will see a rare early round exit. Los Angeles Lakers Hovering just over .500 is this proud franchise that returns Kobe Bryant for the second half of the season. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. While Bryant was feeding the ball to teammates in the first month of the season, he stopped for the second month. The apparent lack of trust in teammates has led to frustration by Lamar Odom, who is simply being used as a spot shooter despite being one of the best ball-handling forwards. Rudy T's retirement has left the Lakers in a quandary and the team can only look towards the second half with a heavy heart. The team simply cannot score as well as it used to (being out-scored an average of 0.8 points) and has trouble forcing turnovers. They are a shaky .500 team at best and may very well be knocked out of the playoffs.
The other Los Angeles team, the Clippers, started strong and did not look as the usual Clippers. Since, they have returned to their losing ways because they are after all the Clippers. They were at 500 at 23-23 but have lost their last seven, making them 23-30. The Clippers have had consistent play from Elton Brand, who should be named to an All-Star game sometime in his career. Brand, as always, averages over 20 points and nearly ten boards a game. This season will not be the usual lottery but still includes losing. Los Angeles Clippers The Clippers have more than 20 wins before the break! Sitting just 4.5 games behind the cross-town Lakers, the Clippers are led by Elton Brand and Corey Maggette (averaging 20.4 and 20.8 ppg respectively) and welcome back Marko Jaric from his extended leave on the IL. Backup PG and rookie Shaun Livingston is also slated to return from his injury soon, giving the Clippers hope for a second-half rally and perhaps even a far-fetched run at a playoff spot. The most glaring problem with the team is holding onto the ball, as they are outscored by an average of .5 points but turn over the ball 1.5 more times than opponents. The return of Jaric should give the Clippers more creativity and more production from the PG position (Rick Brunson is not very good), giving the team hope for at least a .500 finish, however alien that may sound.
The Golden State Warriors probably wish they kept Hughes, Jamison, and Arenas because now they are horrible. Jason Richardson is leading the team in scoring with 22.6 points per game but he is their only 20 point scorer. Their coach Mike Montgomery from Stanford that had great basketball programs is getting used to losing in a hurry. The Warriors at 15-38 will be in the lottery during this offseason and hopefully they can draft talent. Montgomery will improve as a coach but his team will continue to lose. Golden State Warriors Returning as the perennial doormats of the league are the Warriors who chug along at 15-38. Doubtlessly the Achilles Heel of this team is defense, as opponents score 100.4 points on a whopping .47 FG% against them. Of course, converting more than .424 of their shots could also help in making up the -5.3 points differential. The Warriors have a young nucleus in Speedy Claxton, Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy. Their big need now is depth and defense. Nothing will be accomplished in the second half of the season, but if the management is willing to open up its purse, the future looks relatively bright.
Southwest Division
Adith Izzy
The San Antonio Spurs are the best team in the NBA and favorites to win the championship with a record of 41-12. The Spurs are led by Tim Duncan and his usually stellar statistics. Tony Parker has really improved over the years and is 12th in the league in assists with 6.2. Manu Ginobili is making his first All-Star appearance, averaging 15.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and four assists a game. Their coach Gregg Popovich has had success in the postseason, where this team is bound. The Spurs have every aspect required for the championship, guards, big men and a deep bench. San Antonio Spurs Sitting atop the league are the Spurs who are actually better than they currently are. Shocking news: big off-season addition Brent Barry is only just heating up! The team mantra is probably efficiency, as the Spurs are converting .463 of their shots while holding opponents to just 86.4 points per game. Their back court of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is hitting .493 and .48 FG% which is unheard of. What is scary to opponents is that Brent Barry, the big acquisition who is supposed to be giving the Spurs an even bigger outside shooting game, is finally getting into a groove, supplying the team with a splendid backup backcourt of rookie Beno Udrih and Barry. Oof. The team enters the second half with no needs and plenty of optimism for the chance to claim the NBA trophy. There are few who disagree.
The other Texas team has looked solid as well despite some offseason losses. The Dallas Mavericks are fourth in the West with a record of 35-16. They lost this year's MVP Steve Nash in free agency and had a huge hole to fill at point guard. Jason Terry and rookie Devin Harris are averaging over seven assists together to reduce the impact of losing Nash. Dirk Nowitzki is playing the best basketball of his life without his best friend Nash. Nowitzki is third in the league in scoring, 26.9 points per game, and seventh in rebounds with ten. Michael Finley is quietly having a great season averaging 18 points with 4.5 rebounds a game. Dallas also lost last year's Sixth Man of the Year, Jamison in a trade to Washington. For Jamison, the Mavericks received Jerry Stackhouse among other players. In limited action from the bench, Stackhouse scores nearly 16 points a game. The Mavericks have improved their defense and will make a run in the playoffs. Owner Mark Cuban must wait longer for his first championship ring because this is not the season. Dallas Mavericks Offensively deep, the Mavs simply wish they could stay healthy. Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, Michael Finley and Marquis Daniels have all missed time this season or have played games wounded, so the Mavs have little clue as to what they really do have. At the very least, they know they have Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki, who have combined to give the Mavs a very dangerous combination both defensively and offensively. The Mavs look to the second-half praying their players stay healthy. The team will need to mesh before the playoffs and the continued absence of various players is forcing Don Nelson to shuffle the lineup almost every day.
After a slow start, the Houston Rockets have won eight straight to put them at 32-21. The Rockets are led by All-Star starters, McGrady and Yao Ming. McGrady continues to do what he does best, scoring 25.6 points a game, fifth in the league. He is distributing the ball as well as ever with six assists per outing. Ming has adjusted to the NBA system in his third year with averages of 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. These two have been helped by David Wesley who was acquired in a trade.The Rockets will make the playoffs and have a shot of tasting the later rounds because of their talented big man. Houston Rockets Head-scratching and disappointing is what this team is. The Rockets added Tracy McGrady over the off-season in a trade with the Magic to form a formidable duo of McGrady and Yao Ming. It was supposed to be a coup, forming one of the best big-man shooting guard combinations since Kobe and Shaq. That seems to have fizzled, however, giving way to a paltry 93.8 points per game average. The reason is almost as clear as the disappointing offensive performance: Jeff Van Gundy. The coach has single-handedly messed with Steve Francis (who is now putting up outrageous numbers in Orlando) and now is holding back McGrady and Ming with his plodding offense. For all of the defensive emphasis he places, the Rockets are only holding opponents to 91.7 points per game on a .428 FG%, meaning something has to give. If the Rockets want to get to the next level, they will absolutely need to get rid of Van Gundy and replace him with a more up-tempo coach to take advantage of McGrady's skills.
Mike Fratello is coaching the Memphis Grizzlies to success once again. After Hubie Brown resigned for health reasons, the Grizzlies looked hopeless. Brown was the only coach had success with the Grizzlies and got the team to play together. However, the Grizzlies have enough talent to succeed with Shane Battier, Jason Williams and Pau Gasol. Gasol is currently on the injured list and Memphis will miss his 19 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. Fratello knows how to win and will only improve this team from their 30-23 record. Memphis Grizzlies Despite Hubie Brown stepping down due to health reasons, the Grizzlies still find success in the platoon roster. 10 players routinely get minutes, some getting minutes for puzzling reasons. However, the system is clearly working- to an extent. The club is outscoring opponents by an average of 3.2 points, but they are struggling to rebound the ball. The team still needs a clear-cut offensive threat and some consistency, so unless a deal is swung, there likely will be no change in the second half. Teams that are likely to go are Jason Williams and Lorenzen Wright, both of whom are one-dimensional players, in order to give all-around players more playing time and thus give way to a less platoon'd system (players are reportedly disgruntled about the lack of playing time).
The New Orleans Hornets are the worst team in the West. Baron Davis has been injured for much of the season and the Hornets miss his leadership, scoring and assists. No one has filled Davis' shoes and the team continues to lose. If there is a bright side, the Hornets have improved from their 1-19 start. They are now 11-42 and will not be the worst team in NBA history. They will be in the lottery and hopefully they can draft a superstar. New Orleans Hornets At 11-42, the Hornets have been mauled by the move to the Western Conference. The injury to Jamaal Magloire and the expected injuries to Jamal Mashburn and Baron Davis have really set this team back. The team has a back-court of the future in Dan Dickau and J.R. Smith, meaning there is place for hope. The big goal for the team is unloading Davis and Mashburn and rebuilding with a young, sturdier nucleus. Expect Davis to be traded before the deadline. Mashburn will likely "be back" next season. That would give the Hornets at the very least a workable group of Dickau, Smith, P.J. Brown and Jamaal Magloire. It will be years before the Hornets can compete in the Western Conference (plus a new management would help), but they do have players to start the process with.

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Adith Sekaran. Adith Sekaran is finally a senior at Blair. Adith is a man who is a big time sports fan and can spend any day to its' entirety watching sports or ESPN. Football season is his favorite, which he spends cheering on his ‘Skins to no … More »

Isamu Bae. Isamu Bae (AKA Izzy) is a senior and finally put up his staff bio. He's 17 and has no idea what he's supposed to put here, so this is all some filler material. He writes, draws, reads, plays games, practices martial arts (for lack of … More »

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