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|
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