Ok, I will admit up front that this is a very misleading title. I mean, can anyone make sense of the weirdness that is the NBA’s Western Conference? Famed former Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach Bobby Knight is credited with once saying to a group of reporters that he had “…forgotten more about basketball then all you people combined will ever know”. He was just a tad bit more colorful when he actually said it! I bet he would have a tough time making sense of the West.
The Nuggets are the best of the bunch, but do they really scare anyone? The Lakers are currently in the ninth spot and they absolutely scare everyone. Making it all the more odd is the realization that just a few years ago the Lakers wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if the season ended today. The defending champion Golden State Warriors are holding down the sixth spot and are a woeful 7-26 on the road. The Sacramento Kings are in the second spot and the Phoenix Suns get, then lose, Kevin Durant.
The West is just wacky!
5.5 games separate the group with 40 or more wins. The Nuggets have been incredibly consistent and are led by the likely MVP. The best finish for this Nikola Jokic team was a WCF appearance in the abbreviated 2019-20 season. The Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies are both very good, but too young and inexperienced to scare any team in a seven game series. I’m not saying the top tier is weak, the WC representative may very well come from this group. But, I am saying that no team in this group strikes fear in any other team like other top tier teams have done in the past.
The Muddy Middle
6 games separate the number 13 Portland Trail Blazers from the fourth seeded Phoenix Suns. Every team in this group has 30+ wins and every one of them has a legitimate shot at the playoffs. When the NBA added the play-in tournament it was primarily to keep interest alive for fans of teams lower in the standings. Well, mission accomplished! All that is keeping the #12 Oklahoma City Thunder from the 4th seed is an 8-game winning streak. Ok, that and a long losing streak for every team above them in the standings, but you get my point.
The standings in this group are so precarious that you are seeing teams jump up and down significantly on off days! It is going to be very interesting to see how this all sorts itself out over the last few weeks in the NBA regular season.
The Woeful Wembanyama Hopefuls
The San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets round out the bottom of the conference. The hope for these two franchises is that the ping pong ball bounces in their favor and they can start the Wemby marketing and hype machine. If I am Victor Wembanyama I am hoping the ping ball bounces in the direction of Coach Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.
But in this incredibly weird season you have as good a chance as picking the team Wemby is on next season as you do the Western Conference representative in the Finals.