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Art Garcia

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In a week, the Grizzlies and Jazz could end up swapping spots in the West standings ... or not.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Lakers are tops, but rest of West has wild race ahead


Posted Feb 5 2010 2:12PM

Kyle Korver doesn't bother looking at the Western Conference standings when he wakes up each morning. He'd rather not deal with the dizziness.

"I don't look at it every day because it changes every day," the Jazz swingman said. "You win three in a row or lose three in a row, you're going up or down four, five or six spots. It makes every game that much more important, but you can wear yourself out by looking at the standings every day."

Utah can attest to that. Two weeks ago, the Jazz were seventh in the West. Now they're fourth, which projected into the playoffs is good for homecourt advantage in the first round. That's what a seven-game winning streak will do for you.

In the last month, 11 teams in the West have spent time in the top eight at some point. A constant shuffling and reshuffling, as Korver pointed out, comes with a streak in any direction. And the jumbled mess doesn't figure to change going into the final 2 1/2 months.

"It's going to be that way the rest of the year," Korver added. "There are a lot of really good teams in the West. Obviously, the Lakers are up at the top and then there are a whole bunch of teams fighting from two to 10."

Predicting which eight reach the postseason appears easy at the top. The defending champion Lakers are shoo-ins. The Nuggets and Mavericks spent much of the first half jostling for the second spot, but it's much too early to predict division titles and top-four seeds.

In addition to Utah's recent climb, the Suns have jumped from eighth to fifth in a week thanks, in part, to the rejuvenated play of Amar'e Stoudemire. Trade rumors sometimes do that to a guy. The Thunder jumped back up to eighth by reeling off four straight wins after three consecutive losses.

"It's tough," said Nate McMillan, whose seventh-place Blazers gained ground with Thursday's win over the sixth-place Spurs. "It's going to be an unbelievable race and we're trying to stay in it."

The Rockets, Grizzlies and Hornets are now on the outside looking up in a conference that boasts nearly a dozen playoff-caliber squads. Of course, their place in the standings can change by the weekend.

"We're going to find as the season unfolds with all of these teams, we're very balanced and we all can win on any night against each other," New Orleans coach Jeff Bower said. "Every night is going to be a game that's going to be won or lost probably in the closing minutes."

Injuries, strength of schedule, teams jelling or losing steam, blockbuster trades, minor moves and just plain luck are among that factors that will shape the race. Some can't be predicted. And other times the parties in question control their destinies.

The Hornets, eighth as of Jan. 27, are without All-Star point guard Chris Paul for the next month. The Spurs have embarked on the annual Rodeo Trip that could make or break them. Will youth and inexperience catch up with Oklahoma City and Memphis? Is there a player swap around the bend in Dallas, Houston or Phoenix? Can Utah win on the road?

As dramatic as the race promises to be, it's not required reading in every locker room. OKC coach Scott Brooks would rather avoid playoff talk altogether.

"We just play," he said. "There's a lot of basketball left and we understand that there's a lot of good teams. We're going to continue to fight for each other. We'll just play hard and play for each other. We'll see in the middle of April where we end up."

Plenty of wiggle room
A look at how the West standings have changed since Jan. 8
Jan. 8
Team G W L Pct
1 Lakers 35 28 7 0.800
2 Mavericks 35 24 11 0.686
3 Suns 36 23 13 0.639
4 Spurs 33 21 12 0.636
5 Nuggets 35 22 13 0.629
6 Blazers 37 22 15 0.595
7 Rockets 36 20 16 0.556
8t Thunder 35 19 16 0.543
8t Jazz 35 19 16 0.543
10 Hornets 33 17 16 0.515
11 Grizzlies 34 17 17 0.500
Jan. 15
Team G W L Pct
1 Lakers 39 30 9 0.769
2 Mavericks 38 25 13 0.658
3 Spurs 37 24 13 0.649
4 Nuggets 39 25 14 0.641
5 Suns 39 24 15 0.615
6 Blazers 40 24 16 0.600
7t Rockets 39 22 17 0.564
7t Jazz 39 22 17 0.564
9 Thunder 38 21 17 0.553
10 Hornets 37 20 17 0.541
11 Grizzlies 37 19 18 0.514
Jan. 22
Team G W L Pct
1 Lakers 42 32 10 0.762
2t Mavericks 42 28 14 0.667
2t Nuggets 42 28 14 0.667
4 Spurs 41 25 16 0.610
5 Blazers 43 26 17 0.605
6 Suns 43 25 18 0.581
7t Thunder 42 24 18 0.571
7t Jazz 42 24 18 0.571
9 Rockets 41 23 18 0.561
10t Grizzlies 41 22 19 0.537
10t Hornets 41 22 19 0.537
Jan. 29
Team G W L Pct
1 Lakers 46 35 11 0.761
2 Nuggets 45 31 14 0.689
3 Mavericks 46 30 16 0.652
4 Jazz 45 27 18 0.600
5 Spurs 44 26 18 0.591
6 Blazers 47 27 20 0.574
7 Grizzlies 44 25 19 0.568
8 Suns 48 27 21 0.563
9 Hornets 45 25 20 0.556
10t Rockets 45 24 21 0.533
10t Thunder 45 24 21 0.533
Feb. 5
Team G W L Pct
1 Lakers 50 38 12 0.760
2 Nuggets 49 33 16 0.673
3 Mavericks 49 31 18 0.633
4 Jazz 48 30 18 0.625
5 Suns 51 30 21 0.588
6 Spurs 48 28 20 0.583
7 Blazers 52 30 22 0.577
8 Thunder 49 28 21 0.571
9t Rockets 48 26 22 0.542
9t Grizzlies 48 26 22 0.542
11 Hornets 49 26 23 0.531

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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