As we approach the annual NBA all-star weekend, here are my annual western conference midseason observations. So let’s get started.
Utah Jazz (30-17)
I thought the Jazz would be improved this season, but I’d be lying if I said I knew they were going to be this good. The best part about it is that they’re for real too. Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur have been nothing short of spectacular. Expect Utah to be a factor in the second half of the regular season and well into the postseason.
Denver Nuggets (22-21)
The Nuggets will need to gel quickly in the second half of the season if they expect to be a factor in the western conference this postseason. However, I will say that if anyone expected the acquisition of Allen Iverson to immediately transform the Nuggets into title contenders, it’s not going to happen people.
Minnesota Timberwolves (22-23)
Although Minnesota recently fired head coach Dwayne Casey, the Timberwolves have played pretty decent basketball so far, surpassing my meager expectations for them. However, this team is still light years from challenging the Suns or Mavericks in the west and will flame out in the first round if they do reach the postseason.
Portland Trailblazers (20-27)
I finally like the direction the Trailblazers are headed in. No-nonsense head coach Nate McMillan has this young team competing hard on the court and – more importantly – staying out of criminal court. Believe it or not, the Blazers could be a force in a few years.
Seattle Supersonics (17-29)
It’s a case of the same ol’ stuff for Seattle. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis score plenty of points and Seattle usually ends up a sub .500 team. Head coach Bob Hill is clueless and the Sonics have a black hole in the middle where their center is supposed to be.
Phoenix Suns (36-9)
The Suns are hotter than their namesake, that’s for sure. With two, 15-plus game winning streaks this season, it’s apparent that the Suns are on a mission to reach the NBA Finals and nothing else.
Los Angeles Lakers (28-18)
They Lakers’ offseason acquisitions of veterans Maurice Evans and Vladimir Radmanovic are paying dividends, not to mention the growth or Luke Walton, Andrew Bynum and Ronny Turiaf. Oh, by the way, did I forget to mention they still have the most explosive offensive player on the planet in Kobe Bryant?
Los Angeles Clippers (23-22)
The Clippers have clearly taken a step back since last season. However, I wouldn’t necessarily count them out come postseason time. This team does still have several talented players, including perennial MVP caliber player, Elton Brand.
Golden State Warriors (21-25)
The Warriors are a typical Don Nelson team. Plenty of run and gun and excitement, but not much substance and absolutely no defense whatsoever. Sound about right? Thought so.
Sacramento Kings (18-26)
The Kings are seeing the real Ron Artest this season. The constant sulker who is never happy and can divide a locker room faster than Pepe LePew.
Dallas Mavericks (38-9)
The Mavericks, along with the Suns, are undeniably one of the top two teams in the league. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard have this team headed to the western conference finals at the very least.
San Antonio Spurs (32-15)
The Spurs haven’t been their normal selves at times this season. However, any team with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili has to be considered a legitimate contender for the championship. Don’t be surprised to see the Spurs make a strong run in the second half.
Houston Rockets (29-16)
The Rockets were looking like title contenders before center Yao Ming went down with a knee injury earlier this season. Since then, Tracy McGrady has gone back to his prolific scoring ways, carrying the Rockets until Yao comes back. Expect more good things out of Houston in the second half of the season if Yao can make a successful return.
New Orleans Hornets (19-26)
Injuries have reduced this team to also-ran status after a promising 4-0 start to the season. If Peja Stojakovic doesn’t make a full return next season after signing a $60 million free agent contract this past offseason, the Hornets will have egg all over their faces and no matter how gifted point guard Chris Paul is, even he won’t be able to save them from more years of futility.
Memphis Grizzlies (12-35)
The Grizzlies may have gotten head coach Mike Fratello fired, but at least they have been exciting while losing since new head Tony Barone took over and opened up the offense. Who knows, maybe the Grizz will be competitive by the start of the next decade.