Blogtable: Who are the true contenders to win it all in the West?
Our scribes chime in on the state of the Western Conference
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Who are the true contenders to win it all in the West?
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Steve Aschburner: Can I just say “Los Angeles” and cover my bets? The Lakers beat the other teams, the Clippers beat the Lakers. That’s how this season has gone out West. I can’t ignore the intensity with which the Lakers have played this regular season, a noticeable change for LeBron James’ recent teams. Since the 2012-13 Heat went 66-16, his clubs have been more about peaking for the playoffs. This season has been more about instilling a killer instinct, it appears, and that mostly has gone well – with the exception of that pesky 0-6 mark against Boston, the Clippers, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Toronto. The Clippers have beaten them twice and believe their roster is deeper and more talented than the Lakers. Their challenge is to solidify a pecking order with all those potential contributors and, of course, nail down their approach when load management comes off the table. Can’t see Denver or Utah upsetting either of the L.A. teams, and I won’t believe in Houston until we can see the reflection of a certain bushy beard in the shiny Larry O’Brien trophy.
Shaun Powell: Let’s confine this competition to the 213. Just as we suspected back in October, it’s Lakers and Clippers looming beastly in the West. LeBron James and Anthony Davis should be enough to capture the West’s best record, while the Clippers bring more upside because they haven’t been whole for even half a season and just added Marcus Morris. Utah and Denver have righted their ships, but are they really causing sleepless nights in L.A.?
John Schuhmann: It’s hard to look past the two L.A. teams. The Lakers rank in the top five on both ends of the floor and are 12-3 against the other six teams in playoff position in the West. The Clippers have had their ups and downs, but they’ve had the league’s best defense in games against top-13 offenses, they have two wins over the Lakers, and Kawhi Leonard is the best go-to guy playing this season. The Nuggets and Jazz shouldn’t be dismissed, though. Denver is 10-5 in games between the top eight teams in the West, and Utah has the league’s best offense since Christmas. If the Jazz can start defending at the level they have in years past, they have what it takes to be a serious threat. No team is more intriguing than the Rockets right now, but they haven’t shown that they can defend at the level they will need to against these other teams in the playoffs.
Sekou Smith: No disrespect to the mighty Western Conference, but if anyone other than the Lakers or Clippers is still playing in June I’ll be shocked. That’s not a knock on the quality of the rest of the competition in the West. Denver, Utah and Houston all have the potential to make things interesting under ideal conditions. But the Los Angeles teams are clearly the bullies on the block.
Michael C. Wright: Easily the Lakers and the Clippers, and although teams like the Nuggets and the Jazz are quietly making noise, the only other true contender in the West from this vantage point is the Houston Rockets. It remains to be seen whether Houston’s embrace of small ball is sustainable, especially in a long playoff series facing bigs such as Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. But added shooting and defense with the additions of Robert Covington and DeMarre Carroll help. The championship window is closing in Houston, and everybody knows it. So the expectation is the Rockets finish out this season playing with a sense of urgency.