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Surprise Western Conference Teams That Are Better Than Lakers

Howard RubenContributor IDecember 18, 2016

Surprise Western Conference Teams That Are Better Than Lakers

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    By continuing to place the Los Angeles Lakers as the third most likely Western Conference team to win an NBA title this season, the Las Vegas oddsmakers know something the rest of us so-called experts don't.

    Despite their awful 12-14 start, the Lakers are still at 10/1 odds to win the NBA championship in June, which puts them behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder (3/1) and San Antonio Spurs (7/1) to play for a title in the Finals. (Note: Odds are from BetLM.eu.)

    Who are they kidding? Have these guys been to a Lakers game lately? Consider that Mike D'Antoni's club had to scratch and kick their way to three straight wins over the Wizards, Sixers and Bobcats just to get to 12 wins. 

    Granted, the Lakers have had enough legitimate excuses (Steve Nash and Steve Blake out with major injuries, Dwight Howard recovering from back surgery, three coaches in one month) to rationalize their sputtering start to the year. 

    Still, no one in professional sports cares who is playing and who is injured. They only care about the record, and the Lakers have a lousy one.

    The "real" season for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers starts Saturday when they play in Oakland against the resurgent Golden State Warriors. Three days later, the Lakers come home to meet the equally surprising New York Knicks for the second time in two weeks.

    The prognosticators must feel L.A. still has time to get its act together and be the kind of team that the betting world saw when it installed the Lakers as 2/1 favorites to win it all on Oct. 28 (according to Bovada) right before the regular season started.

    There are 10 teams in the Western Conference with a better record than the Lakers. That's not to say they all are better teams than L.A., but if the season were to end today, guess who gets cut out of the playoffs? That's right, your Purple and Gold.

    There are at least five teams in the Western Conference currently better than the Lakers, and that's not including the obvious ones in Oklahoma City and San Antonio. 

    In a season of surprises, here are five teams playing better basketball than the D12/Kobe/Nash Lakers and doing so in a way that's unsettling to fans everywhere.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Surprising but Not Overrated

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    Kevin Love and the Timberwolves played the NBA's top two teams this past week and showed why they belong in the conversation.

    Minnesota lost by 11 to the Heat in Miami but rebounded two nights later to defeat the streaking OKC Thunder 99-93 at home on Thursday. In that game, Love had 28 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.

    Add in center Nikola Pekovic (24 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks) and J.J. Barea's 18 points in 23 minutes, and it's obvious why Minnesota is off to such a good start.

    Despite the loss to the NBA champion Heat, Love pulled down 18 rebounds and showed why every team in the league envies the T-Wolves and their future.

    Minnesota is 13-11 and a better team than the Lakers are today. The team gets balanced scoring, with seven players averaging in double figures.

    What's equally impressive about the T-Wolves is their defense, currently ranked seventh in the league at 94.4 points allowed.

    Minnesota can also kill you with its speedy point guards like Barea, Alexey Shved and Ricky Rubio. Also worth noting is that Love and Rubio both missed significant time this year.

Denver Nuggets: Always a Tough Opponent for the Lakers

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    The Lakers barely got past Denver in the opening round of the playoffs last season. At 14-13 to start the season, the Nuggets may not possess the same talent as L.A. on paper, but they are certainly the better team at the moment.

    Denver seems to be just a tier below being a serious contender to win the West. Still, the Nuggets can be dangerous on their home court and play a fast-paced game that gives teams like L.A. a lot of trouble.

    Six Nuggets are averaging double figures, led by forward Danilo Gallinari at 15.7 points per game.

    Point guard Ty Lawson is probably the best player on the Nuggets, averaging a career-high seven assists and over 14.4 points per game.

    Others in double figures include Andre Iguodala (13.7), Kenneth Faried (12.0), Corey Brewer (11.7) and JaVale McGee (10.9).

    Don't forget Lakers nemesis Andre Miller who is averaging 8.9 points and 5.3 assists per game while playing just 25 minutes. This team can beat you in a variety of ways.

    Denver and L.A. will tangle on Dec. 26, the day after the Lakers play the Knicks. This could be a track meet, and the older Lakers may suffer because of it.

Memphis Grizzlies: Biggest Surprise Is Their Very Fast Start

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    The Memphis Grizzlies sit at 18-6 after a 10-point win over Dallas Friday night at home. 

    Despite losing O.J. Mayo to the Mavericks, the Grizzlies haven't missed a beat all year.  Everyone knew they'd be good, but what's surprising is just how good this team really is.

    Mayo has been the big scorer in Dallas, but Grizzlies defensive specialist Tony Allen shut him down on Friday, holding the former teammate to just 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting.

    Allen told NBA.com: ""I treated it as a regular opponent, whether he was a Kobe (Bryant) or LeBron (James) or what have you. I studied him. I had maybe 15 minutes worth of film on his last three games of all his buckets. I watched that. I sat here quiet and didn't really talk to my teammates. I was just focused on doing the task at hand."

    Rudy Gay had 26 points in the win and he continues to be the team's main scoring threat.  Add in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, two of the best big men in the game, and you've got all the makings of a great postseason contender.

    What's more, Memphis leads the NBA in points allowed at 89.2.  Randolph averages 13 rebounds and Gasol eight, while Allen, Gay and point guard Mike Conley (13.7 points, 41 percent from three-point range) combine for six steals every night.

    Memphis does something the Lakers have yet to learn:  how to play with passion night in and night out.

Golden State Warriors: Longshot Is Looking Comfortable in Role as Winner

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    After beating up on Charlotte much easier than the Lakers did, the Golden State Warriors are 18-9 and 5 1/2 games in front of L.A.  The two play in Oakland tonight.

    Like many of his players, Head Coach Mark Jackson is still learning the ropes of the NBA, but that hasn't prevented this team for succeeding beyond anyone's expectations. 

    Leading scorer Stephen Curry (20.2 with 6.4 assists and 1.5 steals, 44 percent from beyond the arc) is in his fourth year, while Klay Thompson has one season under his belt and has become a reliable 16 ppg scorer.

    The team lost seven-foot center Andrew Bogut to a serious ankle injury just four games into the season.  Yet, the team has not missed a beat in compiling such a lofty record.

    David Lee, at 6'9" and in his eighth year from Florida, is able to play both center and power forward for the Warriors and he continues to shine in both.  Lee averages 20 points on 54 percent shooting plus 11 rebounds.

    "You can pencil in 20 and 10, and then sprinkle in some other stuff around the tree," coach Mark Jackson said via Yahoo Sports. "He's been that good all year long."

    Golden State has added veteran guard Jarrett Jack, who brings 11.4 ppg off the bench, and 6'9" power forward Carl Landry (13 ppg) on 56 percent shooting.

    L.A. will have all it can handle against the Warriors despite what Kobe Bryant is saying about his team:

    "We're playing much better," Bryant said via Yahoo.  "The last three games, we've been playing much better. We're moving the ball a lot better and playing with a lot better energy.

    "We've had a lot of ups and downs. Now, things are starting to stabilize a little bit for us."

    One can hope.

Los Angeles Clippers: Surprise Surprise, Guess Who Is Best in L.A.?

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    The Los Angeles Clippers may not only surprise and win the Western Conference.  This is a team that could go all the way and win the NBA title this year.

    They are that much better than their hallway rivals at Staples Center.

    While the Lakers battle just to beat a team like the Bobcats by one point, the Clippers rolled to their record 12th consecutive victory Friday night, defeating the Kings and proving who is the best team in L.A.

    The Clippers continued to roll and are now 20-6 on the season.  Chris Paul had 24 points, 13 assists, five steals and five rebounds against the Kings.  Blake Griffin added 21 points and 13 rebounds.

    This is a team with a better starting five and probably the best sixth man in the NBA in Jamal Crawford, who averages 16 points off the bench for L.A.  Crawford is the team's second leading scorer behind Griffin, at 18.2 ppg and 8.8 rebounds.

    The Lakers are chasing nine or 10 teams ahead of them in the Western Conference.  They have a very steep hill to climb.

    The Lakers will really get a chance to climb that hill when Steve Nash returns to the lineup later today or on Tuesday against the Knicks.  But, right now, the Lakers are not a very good team...not even a playoff contender.

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