Someday, the Western Conference schedule won’t feel like a nightly death march through a trip-wired minefield. Someday, there may not be 14 teams who’d easily make the top eight if they played in the East.
But that day is not today.
The Western Conference is as tough as ever this season. So the Golden State Warriors will have to soldier on, doing battle with yet another insanely competitive slate of games in their quest for a playoff berth.
The top six spots out West are earmarked (in rough order) for the Oklahoma City Thunder, L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies. Each of those squads were playoff teams a year ago, and each one has either gotten better (the Lakers) or gotten hungrier (the Thunder). Consider these six teams playoff locks.
The Utah Jazz also made the dance last season, and have a very young, very capable frontcourt quartet of Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter. Plus, they added Mo and Marvin Williams to their areas of greatest need: point guard and small forward. Tentatively, they’re penciled in as the No. 7 seed.
On the flip side, we can flatly rule out the mismanaged, mismatched and essentially homeless Sacramento Kings. It'll be a while before they're out of the Western Conference cellar.
The rebuilt, Jeremy Lin-led Houston Rockets aren’t going to make it, either. They’re too young and lack anything approaching superstar talent.
So where does that leave the Warriors?
Well, it’s possible that everything could break right for the Dubs in 2012-13, which might allow them to climb up to the sixth or seventh spot. Conceivably, they've got enough depth and talent on the roster to hop over Utah, and possibly even Memphis.
But however you cut it, there are still five teams the Golden State Warriors absolutely must outplay this year if there’s to be any hope of a visit to the postseason.