Things are heating up in the NBA's Western Conference, as teams are making moves and jostling for positioning in the 2013 NBA postseason.
The West is currently the league's premiere conference. There are eight teams with a positive point differential, to just six in the Eastern Conference, and nine of the top 15 teams listed in Vegas Insider's title odds are from the West.
The Portland Trail Blazers stand within a half-game of the eighth seed, and at No. 10 is the Los Angeles Lakers who, despite being four games out of the playoffs, have a positive point differential. That makes 10 teams with legitimate postseason chances in the West.
Though the Lakers are currently in 10th pace in the conference, their top-heavy lineup is just what playoff series call for. On the other hand, the Denver Nuggets' depth won't help quite as much when rotations shorten up.
Also, the Memphis Grizzlies were just involved in a major trade with a couple Eastern Conference teams on Wednesday night, sending Rudy Gay to Toronto. That is sure to affect their odds down the line as the second half of the season continues.
Elsewhere the cast of franchises will continue rising and falling, but after half a season, we can take a decent look at where our title contenders stand.
Here are the top-10 title odds for NBA Western Conference teams as of Jan. 30.
Statistics used in this story are accurate as of Jan. 30.
Odds used in this story are courtesy of VegasInsider.com.
Current Record: 23-22
Vegas Insider Odds: 250/1
The Portland Trail Blazers currently sit in the No. 9 slot in the Western Conference. They are just a half-game out of the playoffs, but of all the true contenders, they have the lowest odds to win the NBA title. In fact, they have similar odds to that of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Right now, Portland just doesn't have enough of anything. Whether it is veteran experience, superstar play or defense, the Trail Blazers are still a year or two shy of being considered legitimate contenders.
They have an All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge, but their most important player may be rookie point guard, Damian Lillard. In the playoffs, the defense tightens up and mistakes are amplified by the level of competition. Lillard has been great, but the NBA playoffs will be unlike anything the Weber State product has ever seen.
If the Trail Blazers are able to ascend into the playoffs, it is doubtful that they will put up much of a fight against a top-tier Western Conference opponent.
Current Record: 25-21
Vegas Insider Odds: 100/1
After finally breaking into the postseason a year ago, the Utah Jazz were promptly dismissed by the San Antonio Spurs in four games.
Has all that much changed this season?
The Jazz swapped point guards, bringing in Mo Williams and Randy Foye to replace Devin Harris, but they remain a fringe playoff team, and they are still far from a title contender.
Despite dominant size over most teams in the league, the Jazz are a below-average defensive team, giving up 99.3 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field. The results have been a fairly impressive 25-21 record, however, the Jazz are just 9-16 on the road, which is where they'll be for the majority of the postseason.
This franchise is going to have some big decisions to make coming up. The majority of their production comes from Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Williams and Foye, who will all be free agents following this season. The right decisions will make this team a title contender, and the wrong decisions will leave them on the brink.
Current Record: 25-23
Vegas Insider Odds: 100/1
The Houston Rockets are clinging tight to the final spot in the Western Conference playoff picture, but a seven-game losing streak in the middle of January really cut into their surprisingly solid season.
The Rockets were the hot new thing to open the season, and they have maintained a fairly even keel just above .500. They have enough young talent to continue this run and make the postseason, but after that, 100/1 odds to win the title are very steep.
Deservedly so, the Rockets are outsiders on title contention. There just isn't enough proven experience on the roster to warrant any higher odds. The Rockets have one player over 30 years old on the roster, Carlos Delfino, and even he doesn't have all that much playoff experience. James Harden will need to draw on his past with the Oklahoma City Thunder to advise his teammates.
Keeping them this high is the fact that they have an elite player leading the team. Harden has the potential to take over any game, and perhaps even a postseason game. An entire series is another matter, though, and if he is to be considered as one of the best in the game, Houston will have to prove these odds wrong.
Current Record: 28-17
Vegas Insider: 40/1
The Golden State Warriors are officially the positive surprise team of the 2012-13 season.
They have gotten stellar performances out of both David Lee and Stephen Curry, while also rapidly developing young players like Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson. Even veteran free agents like Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry are performing at a high level.
More good news came recently when Andrew Bogut played for the first time since missing 38 games with an injury. In his first game back, the Warriors' center posted 12 points and eight rebounds, while shooting 6-of-8 from the field and blocking four shots.
Bogut's re-addition is incredibly meaningful for Golden State, and his presence actually makes them a team to take very seriously from here on out. There is still a vast lack of postseason experience set to plague them in a couple months, but until then, the positives are great.
Bogut gives them a better defensive presence, and he is a far better center overall then either of his backups.
This is a team that has won, no matter the style or location. They are tied for the third-most road wins in the league this season with the Los Angeles Clippers at 14. The only two with more road wins in the NBA are the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Current Record: 29-18
Vegas Insider Odds: 35/1
The Denver Nuggets, like the Houston Rockets, are the definition of a young and up-and-coming team.
They have only one player, Andre Miller, who is over 30 years old. Yet they have more talent than the Rockets, and that talent is spread around a lot better as well.
Denver sits among the top-five in the NBA in scoring, rebounding and assists, yet they are stuck in the conference's No. 6 slot. The reason for that is that the Nuggets give up 100.5 points per game. The pace at which they play is just not conducive to what is generally seen in the postseason.
A year ago, they took the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the opening round, but could only win when scoring 99-plus points. This team needs to learn how to win lower scoring affairs. Through the first half of the season, I'm not sure that has happened.
Until they prove to be able to vary their style, the Nuggets' odds to win the title remain that of a fair long-shot.
Current Record: 20-26
Vegas Insider: 25/1
Despite still being in 10th place in the conference, the Los Angeles Lakers have decent title odds.
Things have been up-and-down for the Lakers all season, and every time it seems like they start turning it around, there is another issue. The most recent problem was Dwight Howard aggravating a shoulder injury in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. This came after back-to-back wins over Western Conference playoff teams.
Their title odds must remain high solely because of what a roster like this could do in the postseason. Their lack of depth will be less of a concern if they are healthy at that point. Rotations tightening up and the Lakers giving big minutes to their top-six is a scary premise.
No other team in the league has four players who could legitimately take over and win a playoff game by themselves. The key is getting there and getting a bit higher in the seeding. An opening round series with the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs would be a tall order, and you'd prefer to have a few playoff reps under your belt before that.
At 25/1 though, I'm not sure that you'll find a more rewarding bet anywhere.
Current Record: 29-15
Vegas Insider Odds: 18/1
These odds have yet to factor in the Rudy Gay trade that just happened on Jan. 30, but that trade still shouldn't immediately alter their odds too much.
We'll all have to wait and see what the Memphis Grizzlies are able to do with newcomers Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye. The core of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley Jr. will remain intact, but the team has shipped out their leading scorer.
With Gay gone, the Grizzlies will have to make up 17.2 points per game, and they will do so in creative ways. There will be more shots for Randolph and Gasol, but Prince will also have to step in and do some scoring. Either way, the league's best defense, surrendering just 89.5 points per game, shouldn't miss much of a step. They probably also got slightly better at certain individual positions.
Trading away an important player in the middle of a winning season has rarely been a recipe for postseason success in the NBA. Yet the Grizzlies' reasoning for needing to cut some salary is totally understandable, and they got back some good value in return for Gay. However, their odds may suffer slightly in the immediate aftermath, due to newfound rotation instability.
Current Record: 34-13
Vegas Insider Odds: 7/1
The Los Angeles Clippers are one of only four teams right now with single-digit odds to win the NBA title.
That is a long way from getting swept out of the second round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs, which happened last spring.
After winning 17-straight games to end December, things have evened off through a 9-7 January. That big winning-streak gave the Clippers a very strong reputation, and proved that they can clearly be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason. If they can get on that kind of hot streak, then these odds make total sense.
However, there are problems with streaky teams. The Clippers have suffered through two four-game losing streaks this season. If they get stuck in a rut, they'll be bounced from the postseason too early.
The Clippers are playing great defense right now, allowing only 93.3 points per game. That is good for fourth in the NBA, and along with Chris Paul's leadership, they have a very good chance of holding up the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the 2012-13 season.
Current Record: 37-11
Vegas Insider: 6/1
The first-place team in the Western Conference isn't the star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Lakers, and it isn't the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies or Los Angeles Clippers. It is, in fact, the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs' 37-11 record stands a full 1.5 games over the Thunder for the No. 1 seed right now. While their odds don't reflect it, they are currently having a better season than anyone in the NBA. The odds reflect the wider picture, meaning last season's Western Conference Finals loss to Oklahoma City.
In that series, the Thunder's bigs were able to neutralize San Antonio's frontcourt, while their athleticism on the perimeter provided too much of an advantage. Against the odds of age, the Spurs are back still back in the top spot once again.
The Spurs now have that conference finals experience of playing against this young Thunder team. Gregg Popovich and his coaches can put that experience to use while scheming to beat them in a probable rematch this spring
It seems that every year, the odds for the Spurs to win the title will be somewhere around 6/1. They've got the best record in the NBA after nine-straight wins. Right now, nothing is stopping them.
Current Record: 34-11
Vegas Insider Odds: 4/1
The Oklahoma City Thunder are currently getting 4/1 odds to win the NBA title.
Those are the best odds in the Western Conference and second only to the Miami Heat in the entire league.
Right now, this team has seemingly everything going for it. They are considerably healthy, they have a fair amount of recent postseason experience, and they have a couple of superstars who can win individual games on their own in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Their defense, while average and surrendering 97.3 points per game, has aspects that can make it scary in the postseason. They have bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka that can hang with some of the league's top frontcourts. Those two will be instrumental in stopping the Tim Duncan's and Marc Gasol's of the Western Conference.
They were three wins away from winning the title last season, after winning Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals, and the odds are very good that they will get there again. Now, they'll have even more experience in those situations.