How the West will be wonBy Sev Sarmenta
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A CLEARER NBA Western Conference playoff picture will emerge in the remaining six or seven games of the regular season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, the LA Lakers and the LA Clippers are secure in the first four spots. It’s really the bottom half that looks like a minefield where the careless wanderer could be blown up with a bad run in the homestretch.
The Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets are clumped together there with a 34-24 win-loss card range.
The interesting story, of course, is the defending champion Mavs.
Sports Illustrated.com basketball columnist Sam Amick relates that the Mavs remain optimistic that they will make the playoffs and replay the magic of last year’s title run.
Last season, the Mavs rolled over Portland in the first round in six games, then shut out the Lakers and trounced the young and eager Thunder in six matches. Dallas went on to win the NBA title by stopping Miami in six battles.
When this season finally got going, I thought the Mavs had a 70 percent chance of repeating given last year’s inspirational journey and the arrival of Vince Carter and Lamar Odom.
However, the departure of Odom because of internal problems and the scintillating play of other teams might make repeating difficult.
Take for instance the San Antonio Spurs, who have the second best record in the West. Like the Boston Celtics, they were dismissed in the preseason as being too old to make one more title run. But Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker ignored all the doomsayers predictions about their team’s demise.
Last week, the Spurs whipped the Memphis Grizzlies, 107-97, with Duncan scoring a season-high 28 points. Ginobili is still so hard to defend because he can hurt you with slashes to the basket or booming treys. He had 16 points against Memphis that snuffed out any rally the Grizzlies could ignite.
The Mavs play the Lakers, Jazz, Bulls and Hawks on the road and face the Golden State Warriors and Rockets at home. The Mavs are 13-16 away from home and could stumble along the way.
Dallas has to worry about the Chicago Bulls, who proved that their bench can deliver big wins when they trounced the Miami Heat in overtime last week.
If the current standings don’t change however, the first round of the West playoffs could find the Thunder facing Denver, the Spurs getting Houston, the Lakers meeting Dallas and the LA Clippers dealing with Memphis.
The teams that will move forward after the first round will be those with the following: healthy stars, a reliable bench, playoff experience and tons of composure.
All eyes will be on the exciting, high-octane Thunder. The loss from last year’s conference finals should provide them enough composure to withstand the heat of the playoffs.
However, Kevin Durant and company should have a reliable second team to hold the fort when defenses against them become more physical and unforgiving. There is no guarantee in the playoffs that the stars will be injury-free, will not be strangled by double teams, or will not have horrible off-nights.
When it comes to playoff savvy, the other playoff contenders should really worry about the Spurs, who have found a fountain of youth.
Their experience has really gushed forward and have rekindled their passion for another title. They may not lob the ball in the air for monster dunks like what the Thunder and the Clippers do but two points is still two points below the three-point line.
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