NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview

It’s been wild out in the West but the playoffs are finally set and there are several great matchups. Much like the East, the first round could be very unpredictable and the best teams may not be in the Finals. The fifth seeded Denver Nuggets have looked outstanding since the Carmelo trade, yet they must play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.

The Thunder are the young, exciting team that most people think are ready for a breakout year after taking the Lakers six games last year in the first round. Los Angeles is the second seed and is hoping for another three-peat, but they are limping into the playoffs, losing five of their last seven. Dallas has never fared well in the postseason and nobody is giving them much of a shot and then there are the San Antonio Spurs, sitting atop the bracket with the number one seed.

Like always, it seems the Spurs are the forgotten team for some reason despite posting the best record in the West.

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NBA Power Rankings West 12-3

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By Paul M. Banks

1. Los Angeles Lakers (14-3)

Ron Artest is working out well so far. Who saw that coming? They have just so many weapons.

2. Phoenix Suns (14-5)

Finally held under 100 in a game. And it was the Knicks who did it? seriously

3. Denver Nuggets (13-5)

Like the Nelly song lyric says “a Nugget kinda fellow I push the Carmelo”. And Melo is leading the NBA in scoring this year. Anyone still think they’re a one-year wonder?

4. Dallas Mavericks (14-5)

I was pleased to hear NBA TV’s Marc Fein make the same exact observation I made in my last power rankings, the next day on television.

5. Portland Trail Blazers (12-8)

Oden is 3rd in the league in blocks, and finally showing some explosiveness on offense.

6. San Antonio Spurs (9-6)

Tim Duncan will go down as one of the most underrated players of this era. He’s not as flashy as Kobe or LeBron, but you can build titles around him.

7. Utah Jazz (10-7)

Booze is playing like a man looking for a new, big contract isn’t he? With stepping up to complement D. Will and Jerry Sloan now getting a four year extension, look for Utah to see some elevation in the standings.

8. Houston Rockets (10-8)

The Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, and Aaron Brooks core is outperforming everyone’s expectations. They’re a lot better in reality than on paper

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-6)

Like Garth Brooks sang “Thunder rolls,” in his tune that was obviously about what happens when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and James Harden are all on on the same night. J/K I know that song was about a much darker topic than OKC b-ball.

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10. Sacramento Kings (9-8)

They’re going to come back to Earth eventually, right? For the Kings, one game over .500 is out of this world

11. New Orleans Hornets (7-11)

Haven’t utterly self-destructed in the absence of CP3, so that’s encouraging. Fun fact: franchise born in Charlotte got it’s name from the city’s nickname “the Hornet’s nest”. Came from King George III who referred to Charlotte as “that hornet’s nest of rebellion.”

12. Los Angeles Clippers (8-11)

Chris Kaman is their leading scorer? REALLY! It won’t be long until Eric “Basketball Judas” Gordon steps up and passes him.

13. Memphis Grizzlies (3-8)

I’m not a big Gay guy. I don’t think Rudy Gay is someone you can build your franchise around. A good second or third option yes, go-to guy, no. Mayo isn’t the answer either.

14. Golden State Warriors (6-11)

I can think of a few teams that could score at will on their defense: the Kansas Jayhawks, Texas Longhorns, North Carolina Tar Heels.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-16)

Time to start thinking about the ’73 Sixers 9-73 “record”, if the Nets don’t beat them to it.

NBA Power Rankings Western Conference 11-19

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By Paul M. Banks

1. Phoenix Suns (10-2)

They have won eight of their last 11 in Houston. They feel more comfortable at the Rockets’ home court than Mark Mangino at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (8-3)

A recent tweet from NBAGuy summarizes my thoughts exactly: “Hey Reggie Miller, how’d your 20-1 Lakers prediction work out? You dope”gorilla1

3. Denver Nuggets (9-3)

Is the Birdman, and his feel good story a NBA version of Josh Hamilton? Does that mean we’ll soon catch him doing naughty things with strippers?

4. Portland Blazers (9-4)

The number one defense in the league at 88 ppg. That will win you a lot of games, especially in an “Association” where so many teams treat the idea of guarding the way Jessica Simpson regards reading books.

5. Dallas Mavericks (9-3)

Their record is all the more impressive when you consider: Marion is out with a sprained left ankle, Dampier sat out his third straight game with an unknown illness and Howard has missed eight games due to offseason left ankle surgery.

6. San Antonio Spurs (4-5)

Antonio McDyess was a nice pickup wasn’t he? They better hope Manu Ginobili can stay healthy, especially with Tony Parker already out. Otherwise the best thing they’ll have going for them is the league’s most attractive fan in Eva Longoria.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-6)

James Harden has had a couple nice games recently. And you may see them in the playoffs this year. As long you can get past the logo and team name which sounds like a Lingerie football or WNBA franchise.

8. Houston Rockets (7-5)

On paper, you really wouldn’t think that some of their pieces go together as a team. Yet they have a winning record. It’s like former Rocket Charles Barkley, whose arrest taught us that donuts and wine coolers go together…or at least they do for him.

9. Utah Jazz (5-6)

With Deron Williams back, all is well correct? No, not until they also have Kyle Korver back and finally get their front line healthy and clicking on all cylinders. It seems like ages since Utah had their forward depth at full strength.korverhair

10. Sacramento Kings (5-5)

From Kings’ blog Cowbell Kingdom “Nocioni’s defense has been pretty much spectacular and he’s easily been the best wing defender for the Kings this year.” Always liked Chapu when he played under Scott Skiles in Chicago.

11. New Orleans Hornets (4-8)

The fortunes of this team seem to be mirroring that of Utah, just a couple years behind. I think they’ll finish with a above .500 record, just not much higher.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (4-9)

They need Blake Griffin badly. Until then…as ClipperBlog.com put it, “The Clippers essentially have no chance to win when Baron reverts back to the shot happy, poor decision making version of himself that he was last year.”

13. Golden State Warriors (3-8)

To quote a tweet from Bucksketball.com “I don’t think Acie Law ever wants to see the Bradley Center again.”  That was the man “defending” Brandon Jennings the night he dropped 55.

14. Memphis Grizzlies (3-8)

Have you seen their attendance figures lately? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Memphis Grizzlies themselves have never even heard of the Memphis Grizzlies.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves (1-11)

Their only win was over the Nets at home, so that doesn’t actually count right? I think Michigan State might be able to beat the New Jersey Nets’ current lineup. After Ricky Rubio, this franchise is beginning to look cursed. But then again the Arizona Cardinals finally made it to the Super Bowl last year. So don’t give up hope Twin Cities.

Western Conference Power Rankings

lakergirls

By Paul M. Banks

1.  Los Angeles Lakers (6-1)

If you missed the battle of Los Angeles opening night broadcast on TNT, consider yourself lucky. The announcers were fawning all over this team and penciling them in at 40-1 already. Easy guys, the ’96 Bulls aren’t leaving the record books anytime soon.

2.  San Antonio Spurs (3-3)

I like the deal for Richard Jefferson a lot. They’re a quicker, younger team, and certainly not your older brother’s Spurs that were slow and plodding. They could be a Finals contender, but must improve their defensive rebounding and guarding the paint.

3. Phoenix Suns (7-1)

Maybe there won’t be a re-building phase after all. And they should be fun to watch in getting those wins too, conquering a foe with scores of 150-145 every so often. It’s like a NBA version of college football’s WAC conference.

4.  Denver Nuggets (5-2)

Don’t expect a let-down from last year’s breakthrough season. They have too much talent, and balance. They also have a certain Gestalt- the whole is more than the sum of the parts. And I’m not talking about the players’ body art. Denver unofficially leads the NBA in tattooed space.markcuban

5.  Dallas Mavericks (4-2)

Is there anything uglier than Shawn Marion’s shot release? Well, actress Julia Styles is no picnic to look at. We must be overdue for a Mark Cuban publicity stunt/fining/fake public outrage/ridiculous boastful public comment. There hasn’t been a news cycle surrounding the attention whore in quite a while. Oh wait, what’s this about him wanting to buy the Dodgers?

6.  Portland Blazers (4-3)

So any day now Greg Oden is going to start playing up to his pre-draft hype, right? Well maybe not. The rebounds and blocks are there, but the scoring? About as lackluster as an Ohio State performance in a national championship game.

7.  Oklahoma City Thunder (3-3)

Kevin Durant and company will make a big step forward this season. You should take the Thunder seriously this year. As long you can get past the fact that their logo and name sounds like either an Arena football or indoor women’s soccer franchise.

8.  Utah Jazz (3-4)

This is Deron Williams’ team, not D. Will & Carlos Boozer’s team. Williams, BY FAR the best player in the league never to have been an All-Star, gets ornery when he loses, so they must get much better on the road, and stop the 4th quarter collapses, if he is to stay in good moods. The defense in the final stanza MUST improve.deronwilliams

9. New Orleans Hornets (2-5)

Every time I’ve asked a college point guard who they look up to in the NBA, they say either Deron Williams or Chris Paul. Those two are the gold standard, and will be inextricably linked like Magic and Bird throughout their careers. I guess it’s fitting that their teams are right at the same level too.

10 Houston Rockets (4-2)

You may ask how they ended up this low, with a record as good as they have. Well, injuries will catch up to them soon enough, and the W-L will soon be under .500.

11.  Los Angeles Clippers (3-4)

If they can tread water long enough till Blake Griffin gets here, they just might be able to squeeze into the playoffs.

12.  Golden State Warriors (1-4)

Stephen Curry’s career is off to a quick start, as he establishes himself near the top of this year’s rookie class. They can succeed if they follow the Phoenix method of winning basketball games- outscore them!

13. Sacramento Kings (3-4)

Everyone makes the Clippers their NBA punchline, but don’t forget about Sac-town. With the exception of a couple years at the beginning of the decade, (and their one fluky deep playoff run) they’ve been tremendous slouches themselves. Don’t let the quick start fool you, they’ll find the basement soon enough.

14.  Minnesota Timberwolves (1-6)

Someone email me some rationale stating that David Kahn truly knows what he is doing. I’d like to think that a person who gets a job as a NBA GM actually has a clue when it comes to basketball decisions, but I just don’t see it.

15.  Memphis Grizzlies (1-6)

That goes double for Memphis’ General Manager Chris Wallace. Seriously, the Zach Randolph trade, the fact that they can’t sell any tickets even though their home court is located right on one of the nation’s biggest parkways of partying (Beale St.), the fact they’ll be a fixture in the lottery for years to come…I’ll stop there.

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NBA Power Rankings

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By David Kay 

1. Los Angeles Lakers
Ron Artest knows he will a complementary player, right? I mean he has to, or else he wouldn’t have signed with the Lakers, right? If Lamar Odom is brought back, this team could win 70 games. Seriously.
 

2. San Antonio Spurs
The only thing preventing the Spurs from finishing behind the Lakers is their health. Love the Richard Jefferson trade, by the way.

 3. Denver Nuggets
Was last year’s playoff run a flash in the pan? I say no, especially with Chauncey Billups running the show.

 4. Dallas Mavericks
If Jason Kidd still has some gas in his tank and Shawn Marion can show a re-birth of sorts, Dallas will be a step or two behind the Lakers and Spurs.

 5. Utah Jazz
Even with the likely Boozer trade, the Jazz should be a solid playoff team.

For the rest of the West, click here

deron_williams

 1. Boston Celtics
If their 30-somethings can stay healthy for the majority of the season, the Celtics should be the team to beat in the East. The additions of Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels should help keep their older guys fresh. If Rajon Rando continues to improve as a point guard, watch out.

 2. Cleveland Cavaliers
Over/under on the number of times LeBron James is asked if he is staying in Cleveland this season: 918,274.

 3. Orlando Magic
They ultimately swapped Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter, which is a bit of a question mark. If Carter can play up to his potential, the Magic will be back in the Eastern Conference title hunt.

4. Atlanta Hawks
Bringing back Mike Bibby, trading for Jamal Crawford, and drafting Jeff Teague gives Atlanta one of the deepest backcourts in the league. The depth up front is a different story though.

5. Chicago Bulls
Losing Ben Gordon isn’t the end of the world as Derrick Rose should only get better based off his play in the postseason.
 

 

For the rest of the East click here