NBA Western Conference Report Card

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Ah it feels good to be grading some good teams! The only good thing about the East is because everyone is bad, every team (outside of Milwaukee and Orlando) can still make the playoffs. This is not the case in the West. But enough rambling, let’s get right to the teams.

Northwest Division (Shouldn’t the NBA sue Kim Kardashian and Kanye West for breach of copyright? Oh, that’s right, it’s a baby, not a brand. Maybe someone should tell them that, too…)

Oklahoma City Thunder (33-10): It’s incredible how injuries can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. Let me explain: Had Russell Westbrook not gotten injured in last year’s playoffs and The Thunder lost to either The Spurs or The Grizzlies, we may have never seen this kind of leadership from Durant or development of Reggie Jackson or Ibaka. Now when Westbrook returns, suddenly OKC has depth and scoring options galore. They have massively overachieved without Westbrook, and I expect that to continue when he returns. Yes, that means I’m predicting them to win the Championship. Grade: A

blazers2014-640x352Portland Trailblazers (31-11): I love it how people are saying this team came from nowhere. If you watched Blazers’ games last year, you would have realised their biggest problem was consistent outside shooting and bench depth. They have addressed the latter with Lopez and Mo Williams (and also other capable players that aren’t being used, like Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson), and the outside shooting issues are a thing of the past with Lillard’s play this year. I predicted them to make the playoffs before the start of the season, but I had no idea they would be doing this well. LaMarcus Aldridge is a legitimate MVP candidate, and Portland could easily make the conference finals. Grade: A+

Denver Nuggets (20-20): After winning 56 games last year, The Nuggets decided to continue that momentum by firing their coach and trading their best two way player (Iggy) for virtually nothing. The results have not been surprising. Brian Shaw, in my opinion, is a good coach. But he has been placed in a situation where he has a gun to his head trying to follow George Karl. They are without their best scorer (Gallinari) for the season, so when you consider all of that, they haven’t performed that badly. But still, their core is Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried, and they should be better than .500. Grade: B-

Minnesota Timberwolves (20-21): Somehow, after years of being the cellar, the Timberwolves have emerged as the team that everyone loves. The roster is deep at every position, but yet they find themselves 4 games back from the final playoff spot. Is it possible that Kevin Love is overrated? Absolutely. There is no justification for this team to be 4th in this division. Grade: C-

Utah Jazz (14-29): There is a definite youth movement going on in Utah, and the results have been predictable. The Jazz’s intentions this season to rebuild were obvious by their decisions to not re-sign Milsap or Jefferson and free up minutes for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (the spell check is about to have a fit after typing those names). They also drafted Trey Burke and Gordon Haywood has taken his game to the next level and become a legitimate starter in the NBA. Expectations weren’t high for this team, but they’re competitive and are playing well despite the shortcomings in the roster. Grade: C+

Southwest Division

spursSan Antonio Spurs (32-10): How is this even possible? How does a team this old, somehow, come back from the epitome of a heartbreaking loss in last year’s NBA finals, and still be on track for 64 wins? It defies all logic, but here we are. Leonard has become a beast, and the role players are the heart and soul of this team. I don’t particularly like them, but I couldn’t be happier for them. Grade: A+

Houston Rockets (29-15): When you add a piece to the puzzle like a Dwight Howard without giving up anything, you expect results. Yes, they are better than what they were last year, but they are only sitting in the 5th spot in the West, and there is no justification for that. The Rockets need to make a decision on Omar Asik and trade him for someone that can play alongside Dwight. It is good to see Jeremy Lin playing well coming off the bench as well, and Harden has been solid. The way they are constructed is iso for Howard, with everyone at the 3 point line, or pick and roll with Harden/ Howard. They need to do more than that, but Dwight is such a sensitive player, and he demands the offense to be run through him even though he has severe limitations on that end of the floor. This team is under performing. Grade: C-

Dallas Mavericks (25-19): It’s funny how quickly NBA fans overvalue current stars and how quickly they forget dominant players from a few years ago. Dirk really isn’t that far off what he was doing a few years ago when he carried The Mavs to the NBA championship, but nobody is paying attention to him at all (and yet they’ll drooling all over Kevin Love?). The reality is this team has played very well and are led by Dirk and Vince Carter, who has matured into a nice role player/ mentor. I like what I’m seeing here, even though I don’t expect them to make the playoffs this year (they’re currently the 8th seed). They’re laying a nice foundation for the future and could end up contending before Nowitzki’s career is done. Grade: B+

Memphis Grizzlies (20-20): Ah, how the mighty have fallen! The Grizzlies used to pride themselves on being a beat-em-up, pound it inside ball club. Now with a coaching change and wear and tear factoring in, this has become Mike Conley’s team. He’s played well, and would be an All Star in the East, but for a conference finalist last year to be only 20-20 is disappointing (even though I predicted them to miss the playoffs). They need to start the rebuilding process right now. Grade: D

New Orleans Pelicans (16-25): This might be the most stacked team in Pelicans/ Hornets history, and yet, they are nearly 10 games below .500. This simply just isn’t working, and Tyreke Evans has been a major bust for this ball club. They, like Memphis, need to start over and trade anyone not named Anthony Davis and begin to rebuild. Grade: E

Pacific Division

L.A. Clippers (29-15): New coach (Doc Rivers), new role players (J.J. Reddick, Jared Dudley), same problems. Wait, what problems? They’re leading their division! Excuse me while I take a nap to avoid the hype, but this team has the exact same issues they’ve had the last 2 seasons: They’re super talented but overrated and they believe their own hype before crashing to reality in the playoffs. Chris Paul (and to a lesser extent, Blake Griffin this season) is the only player who is consistently good on this team. J.J. Reddick does open the game up a little bit for them, but there isn’t enough frontcourt firepower on this team. If (and this is a giant if, so let me bold it): if Doc Rivers finally figures out that the Clippers best line up in the fourth quarter is Griffin at centre, and then Barnes or Dudley, Reddick, Crawford and Paul, then they could do some damage. But to this point, we haven’t seen that. It’s all about attention and trying to make unnecessary statements early in the season, and we’ve seen it all before. Enjoy your first round exit again. Grade: C

Golden State Warriors (26-17): Like the Clippers, the Warriors have underperformed this year and because of a similar problem: They haven’t gone small. Its mind boggling to me that Golden State hasn’t adopted a line-up of Bogut/Lee, Iggy, Barnes, Thompson and Curry. I understand they are small, but they could get away with this and pose major problems on the offensive end to teams. It’s hard to be too critical of this team honestly because they are on schedule to have a better record than last season, but they should be at the top. Grade: B-

sunsPhoenix Suns (24-17): Where in the hell did this come from? Seriously, I would like to know. I can’t get enough of watching this team. It actually looks like they’re enjoying playing the game and not taking it overly serious. But here’s the catch: teams will not be underestimating them after the All Star game. Dragic is good, and they have so much space to operate that’s it not funny, but can he really carry an offense all season? I say yes, and they sneak into the playoffs. Can you imagine a first round series against the Warriors? Oh please, God, let it happen. Grade: A+

L.A. Lakers (16-26): As I mentioned in the Kobe Byrant should sit out this season article, if you take Pau Gasol out of this line-up, this is a legitimate D-League team. And because of this, it’s remarkable that The Lakers have 16 wins at this point. They have some serious work to do before the start of next season, but they’re playing hard and actually over achieving. Grade: C+

Sacramento Kings (15-26): Another surprisingly competitive team at the bottom of the division, Sacramento reminds me a lot of Portland last season. Cousins has to be an All Star this season, and they have a decent frontcourt with mid-season acquisitions of Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams. I think this team will surprise some playoff teams in the second half and be a sneaky pick for next season to play the post-season. They’re heading in the right direction. Grade: B