Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
The Memphis Grizzlies will be jockeying for position all year, but they certainly have the potential to represent the West in the NBA Finals.
Zach Randolph has been incredible this year, averaging 16.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game.
Rudy Gay has been pouring in the points, and Marc Gasol is finally looking like the superior brother to Pau. They also have Mike Conley, who can score, distribute and play solid defense to the tune of 2.4 steals a night.
The Grizzlies can punish teams on the defensive end and on the glass. But they only average 94.6 points per game, which is the worst in the West except for the 7-25 New Orleans Hornets.
That scoring may not be enough to soar over the rest of the West.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been the leading soap opera in the NBA this season. They stumbled out of the blocks and then promptly fired head coach Mike Brown five games into the season.
Then they flirted with re-hiring Phil Jackson for about a day but instead selected Mike D'Antoni to lead Steve Nash and their new-look squad to a title. They called the Zen Master in the middle of the night to break the news to him.
Through all the turmoil, they really just needed Nash and Pau Gasol to get to full health. All the while, Kobe Bryant has been averaging more than 30 points a night for the first time since 2006-07, and he's shooting the best percentage from the floor in his career (47.9 percent).
Dwight Howard has been averaging 17.3 points and 11.9 boards, but that's just what is expected of him. And Metta World Peace has been contributing in all facets of the game.
With some continuity under D'Antoni and a healthy Nash on the court, the Lakers will bounce back and rise through the standings in the West, but they're unlikely to play stout defense in their current system, despite the numerous skilled defenders on the roster.
Ultimately, their age and lack of depth will doom their chances of advancing very far in the playoffs, but I still envision them rising to the fifth seed.
Grizz in 6
Note: all stats accurate as of January 4, 2013.