March 09, 2013

NBA PM: Balance of Power Shifting in the West

For most of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Western Conference playoff picture has been a foregone conclusion. Simply put, there have only been eight teams that looked good enough to make the playoffs, and maybe two of those looked like they had a shot at a title. As we come down the stretch of the season, however, we’re starting to see some movement in the ranks.

First and foremost, the Los Angeles Lakers are starting to figure things out. It helps that Kobe Bryant is back in MVP form, but the rest of the team is playing better around him and the Lakers are looking to claw their way above .500 for the first time since early in the season. Tonight, the Lakers host the Toronto Raptors, who have won just four of their last 10 games, then get a visit from the struggling Chicago Bulls before hitting the road for three games starting in Orlando with the lottery-bound Magic. If the Lakers pull off three wins in a row, they could very well be in the playoff picture when they land in Atlanta next Wednesday.

While the Lakers have been playing better, the reality is that the only reason they are poised to get at least a share of the West’s eighth seed is because the Utah Jazz are completely falling apart. It’s not unexpected, either. The Jazz needed to make a deal at last month’s trade deadline that would clear up their front court logjam and add much-needed depth at other positions, but instead chose to stand pat. It also doesn’t help that head coach Ty Corbin promo bonus 100% sbobet ibcbet dan casino online dalam rangka hut bavetline yang kedua. Their last three losses have been by three points or fewer, including Wednesday night’s 107-110 loss to the 21-40 Cleveland Cavaliers. The Jazz enter tonight’s game in Chicago with a 10-21 road record, and a loss could very well leave them just a half-game ahead of the Lakers in the race for the eighth seed.

Meanwhile, at the top of the conference, the San Antonio Spurs were expected to at least stumble with Tony Parker sidelined by an ankle injury, but instead they have continued to push forward. The Spurs have won three straight in convincing fashion with Cory Joseph taking the reins from Parker and are still the NBA’s best team at 48-14 on the season. There’s a big test coming at the end of the month when the Spurs take on the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami HEAT and Memphis Grizzlies in consecutive games, but so far the Spurs have shrugged off all other challenges. Why not that one, too?

Finally, as we discuss the contenders from the West, a field that has really only included the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Spurs for the most part may be expanding a bit. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the hottest teams in the league since the All-Star break, and seem to be greatly enhanced with consummate teammate Tayshaun Prince in place of Rudy Gay at small forward. Even more impressive, though, has been the squad from Denver. The Denver Nuggets have been overlooked for much of the season despite the fact that they survived a road schedule that was just brutal over the first three months of the season. Sooner or later the schedule evens out, and when the Nuggets finally got home in January they embarked on an impressive run of their own. Denver is currently tied with Miami for the best home record in the NBA at 27-3, and have knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers during their current seven-game winning streak. Ignore the Nuggets at your peril.

There may not have been much drama in the Western Conference standings to this point, but heading into a busy 12-game night in the NBA tonight things could get very interesting… very interesting, indeed.

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