The Western Conference (despite losing the All Star Game) remains the dominant conference.
However, with so many good teams, it is very difficult to differentiate the contenders from the pretenders.
Now that we have entered the second half of the season many teams will rise and fall from the elite western ranks. Here are a few of my predictions of the top teams in the West...
With Chris Paul as a standout MVP candidate leading a relatively athletic team, the Hornets are a team that seems strongest in the West. David West is having a tremendous season, even garnering (along with Paul) his first All Star selection. Tyson Chandler has also matured into a much smarter player, which has in turn made him a better teammate. With the benefit of good chemistry on a talented team, the future looks bright.
Yes, Shaq is now a Sun, however his presence is simply not what it used to be. With the loss of Shawn Marion as part of the deal, the fast break that has made this team so successful, will be ran a little bit slower.
Steve Nash is still the best passer and playmaker in the game, while Amare Stoudemire has proven himself as a powerful big man, so the Suns’ core is remains intact. Backed by Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, and Grant Hill, this team is deep and will have a nice season, but will not contend for the championship.
Like it or not, there is no denying that Kobe Bryant is the most individually talented player in the world. The fact that he has decided to trust his teammates and make them better this year is astounding, scary, and the reason the Lakers are having a fantastic season.
Pau Gasol is a nice addition who has filled his role very well so far. The question with this team lies in its health. Will Andrew Bynum return and resume his high level of play? Will Kobe come back from his finger injury and lead his team to the top of the West?
The defending champs are not in first place in the West. They are not even in first in the Southwest. So what’s wrong?
When you have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobilli, and a host of selfless role players who genuinely want to win, you have a team that will contend. The Spurs, headed by Gregg Popovich, are a classy organization, run the right way, and always seem to find a way deep into the playoff picture. Expect nothing different this year.
Jason Kidd is soon to be a Maverick, and having wingmen Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard, and Jason Terry only gives Kidd the opportunity to really show off his playmaking skills.
With Dirk playing consistently at a high level there should be no reason for us not to see more Mark Cuban antics on the sidelines come June.
Jazz fans rejoice—the storm is over. Deron Williams has broken out of his slump, which means the Jazz are back on track. Look for Carlos Boozer to step up even more as the season progresses, and for a strong finish from the Jazz.
I expect Utah to get a good playoff seed, however, with so much talent in the West, I do not expect them to contend this year.