Blogtable: Which teams are the East's and West's clear No. 2?
Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day.
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No surprise here, the Warriors and the Cavs have the best records in their Conferences one-fourth of the way through the season. My question for you: Is there a clear No. 2 in the East and a clear No. 2 in the West? If so, who?
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Steve Aschburner: Toronto sure is scoring like a clear No. 2 in the East. Actually, the Raptors are scoring like a No. 1, but they aren’t going to stop Cleveland from a return to The Finals (and this isn’t a regular-season-only exercise). But I expect Toronto’s experience from a year ago to separate it from the even-greater pretenders in their conference. Out West, I don’t think there is a clear No. 2. By Gregg Popovich’s own admission, a lot of San Antonio’s early victories have been soft, accomplished by playing hard for only a portion of those games. The Clippers in my view still run too hot emotionally and, at least, aren’t head and shoulders better than the Spurs or even the Rockets, for that matter. Houston actually could wind up as the second-best team out West but, if so, its margin will be wafer-thin. And that’s not “clear.”
Fran Blinebury: Riding All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and the No. 1-rated offense in the NBA, the Raptors are on a separate rung of the ladder in the East as the clear No. 2 team. Not on par with the Cavs, but separate from the rest and I believe it will stay that way. The Spurs, Rockets and Clippers are in a 3-way tug o’ war in the West. I believe the Spurs have more balance with both offense and defense rated in the top 10. And, of course, there’s Pop.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Pretty clear. It’s Toronto in the East, then a big drop. The Hawks could get there, the Celtics as well, and the Hornets are sending out some good signals. For now, though, the Raptors are the clear second. In the West, it’s the same group since the start: Clippers and Spurs, Spurs and Clippers. Either or.
Shaun Powell: The clear No. 2 in the East is Toronto because the Raptors have yet to suffer a malaise and are being turbo-charged by DeMar DeRozan like we’ve never seen him before. The picture isn’t so 4K in the West because of the back-and-forth we’ve seen from San Antonio, the Clippers and now look out for the Rockets. And that’s how it should be — drama, which makes for a compelling regular season.
John Schuhmann: Toronto is the clear No. 2 in the Eastern Conference. In fact, the Raptors, with an offense more efficient than the Warriors thus far, are 10-0 against East teams that don’t have LeBron James (and lost their three games to the Cavs by a total of 11 points). The picture in the West is much fuzzier. Among non-Warriors West teams, the Spurs have had the best record, the Clippers have had the best point differential, the Rockets have had the best offense, and the Grizzlies have had the best defense. Give the edge to San Antonio right now, but Houston and LA have higher ceilings and the Spurs’ depth (which is carrying them right now) won’t be as much of a factor in the postseason.
Sekou Smith: There is a clear No. 2 team in the East and it’s Toronto. Dwane Casey has his team grinding away much the same way they did last season. They have a group that knows their roles and play at a consistently high level, though I’m not sure it will be enough to unseat the Cavaliers in the regular season or playoffs. As well as the Rockets, Clippers and Grizzlies have played at times this season, I still believe the Spurs are the next best team behind the Warriors in the West.
Ian Thomsen: Yes and yes. Toronto is clearly occupying a tier all its own in the East, health permitting, and the same goes for the Spurs in the West. The Raptors are blessed with continuity and two stars at their peak, and right now they look very much like the main challenger to Cleveland. But things are likely to change between now and the spring — will anyone be shocked if the Celtics make a big trade at the February deadline? As for the Spurs, they’re going to face the harder road because the West is so competitive and three of their best players — Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol — are carrying 47 seasons of NBA mileage.
Lang Whitaker: I’ve felt all along that Toronto is the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. People forget that they pushed Cleveland to six games last year in the Conference Finals, and while they lost a couple of rotation players, having a healthy DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas is a big deal. In the Western Conference, the way the Clippers have played this season has been an eye-opener, as they’ve basically opened the campaign fully engaged and keeping it 100 every night. But I suspect that if they can stay healthy, the second-best team in the Conference is the San Antonio Spurs — the addition of Pau Gasol has been a perfect fit on so many levels.
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