The NBA’s Western Conference has been an oasis of stability vis-a-vis contending teams for seemingly forever. Since 2000, there have been 28 teams (14 years times 2 teams) competing in the Conference Finals, but The Usual Suspects have appeared again and again, while the majority of squads have been left up the track. The Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs have each contended 7 times. After those 2 dynasties, we find the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks have 3 appearances each, the Oklahoma City Thunder two, and solo gigs by Utah, Portland, Minnesota, Memphis, Sacramento and Denver. Four teams – the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans (previously the Hornets), haven’t had a sniff.
I think this year will be different, as three of the four perpetual non-contenders look very strong, and the fourth (the Pelicans) is on the rise, if not yet ready to be listed as a credible playoff team. Let’s take a glance at each one:
Apr 29, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first quarter in game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
- Houston Rockets: They “won” the Dwight Howard sweepstakes; whether it becomes a Dwightmare for them remains to be seen. The Rox have lots of up and coming players, like Chandler Parsons, Omar Asik and Jeremy Lin, and one who’s already arrived, James Harden. If Dwight can recapture the two-way skills which made him a monster in his early seasons, this team could dominate.
- Golden State Warriors: A team that’s been knocking on the door…will it open for them this season? I don’t see why not. This squad features solid veterans up front (Andrew Bogut, David Lee), with some serious wing talent (Andre Igudola, Klay Thompson) and terrific youth (Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes). Their bench includes useful people like Marreese Speights, Draymond Green and Toney Douglas. If they can avoid injuries to papier-mache players like Bogut and Curry, they could win a ton of games.
- Los Angeles Clippers: If you think we Raps fans are long-suffering, consider the history of this team! I think they will win more games than their glamorous rivals, the Lakers, this year and for several more. Any team headed by Chris Paul at point guard and Blake Griffin at power forward is going to be a handful. I’m not so impressed with the rest of the roster, but their coach is Doc Rivers, who’s proven he can win with less than stellar lineups.
- New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis will continue his ascendancy to the top rank of NBA big men this season, but his supporting cast is shallow. I like Jrue Holiday a lot, and Ryan Anderson is a rich man’s Steve Novak, but Tyreke Evans, Austin Rivers and Al-Farouq Aminu have been disappointments. A team with roster space for Roger Mason Jr., Lou Amundson and Greg Stiemsma isn’t going anywhere.
Where does all this New Kids on the Block advocacy leave the Lakers and Spurs? I think the evergreen Spurs will be a regular season force once again, but age will catch up to them in the playoffs. The Lakers will need a medical miracle in order to get Kobe Bryant back on the floor in time to salvage their season. I don’t believe that will happen.
I think several of the young teams I’ve named will be in contention out of the West, up to and including conference champion. You heard it here first.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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