Checking In On The Western Conference – Who’s Rising, Who’s Falling?

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Coming into the NBA season, there was a general belief that the Western Conference was the best collection of teams in league history. Just a month and a half into the season, let’s take a look at the conference and see where things stand for the Portland Trail Blazers and their contenders.

1 – Houston Rockets – 16-4

The Rockets were one of the teams that were all-in during the summer. They sent half of their roster to Los Angeles in exchange for Christ Paul, and they pushed really hard for Carmelo Anthony before the Thunder swooped in and shocked the league. The combo of Paul and James Harden is a nasty one. In a league full of talented guards, these two shine bright. Harden is averaging 31.7 points, 9.8 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game while Paul is averaging 10.8 points, 10.8 assists, and 4 rebounds. This team will only get better.

2 – Golden State Warriors – 15-6

Have the Warriors lost their edge? Where is the swagger? How do they lose to the KINGS? THE KINGS! Hold your horses, everyone. This is still the greatest collection of talent to ever be put together. They will be just fine. Look at what LeBron James has done in the Eastern Conference. Every year it is the same story, “What is wrong with LeBron?”… Then come Playoff time, it’s on. The Warriors are a game and half behind the Rockets. It’s only November. Warriors are the overwhelming favorite to repeat.

3 – San Antonio Spurs – 13-7

Gregg Popovich is a genius. There is no denying his greatness and the spectacular longevity that he has helped the Spurs achieve. They have been so good for so long. This year they without Kawhi Leonard. Once the Claw is back, this team becomes even more dangerous. The brand of team basketball they play down there in the shadow of the Alamo is something every team should aspire for. Our good buddy LaMarcus Aldridge looks to be settling into his role as a Spur as he averages 22.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 50%+ from the field.

4 – Portland Trail Blazers – 13-8

Highlighted by a 4-1 East coast road trip, the Blazers are shooting up the power rankings and starting to grab the attention of pundits around the league. Damian Lillard looks like a bonafide All-Star as he averages 25.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game. As good as the dominant road trip was for the Blazers, the home loss to the Nets a couple weeks ago was equally bad. This team needs to figure out how to win close games, especially at home. The Blazers have shocked the league by having a top-5 defense. They will only get better on that end of the floor once Al-Farouq Aminu gets back on the court.

5 – Denver Nuggets – 11-8

While there are teams rising, the Nuggets face a bit of an uncertain future. One of their key acquisitions, Paul Millsap, will miss 3 months after undergoing wrist surgery. The Nuggets will have to find a way to win without him. Gary Harris and Will Barton are both having career years while Nikola Jokic is playing spectacularly. It will be interesting how he steps up in the absence of Millsap.

6 – Minnesota Timberwolves – 12-8

One of the teams that made some of the most moves this offseason hasn’t disappointed. On paper, this is the youngest and highest-ceiling team in the entire league. Built around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins is a good place to start. Then the additions of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague has made this team legit. It’s time to start paying attention to this team. They will be around for a while.

7 – New Orleans Pelicans – 11-9

This could be the year that Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis wreak havoc on this league. Combined they are averaging 51.5 points, 23.9 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 3.4 blocks per game. Oh, and they are both 7-feet tall and make 3 3-pointers combined per game. If they both stay healthy, I am not sure there is a team in the league with a defensive game plan for them. Not saying they are a legit threat in the west, but no team wants to meet the Pelicans in the first round.

8 – Utah Jazz – 9-11

Rudy Gobert is one of the most freakish players in the league. That wingspan gives opponents nightmares. He has shown some vulnerability in his health this season which will be an interesting storyline moving forward. After losing their best player in Gordon Hayward, it is going to be hard for the Jazz to get back to the level of play that they are accustomed to. They are a piece or two away from being contenders in the West. They will battle for the 7-9 seeds this season.

9 – Oklahoma City Thunder – 8-11

The Thunder have three of the most talented players in the league. Problem is, there is only one ball on the court at a time. I keep thinking that this team is going to meld and get things together and then they lose another game. They came out and beat the Warriors in an emotional matchup, but then lost to the Pistons and Mavericks. This team will be around down the stretch, but are a long ways from contending against far superior defensive teams in the Western Conference.

10 – Los Angeles Clippers – 8-11

Blake Griffin is missing a few weeks with a knee injury and Patrick Beverly is out for the season. Then DeAndre Jordan is rumored to be on the trade block. This could be a turning point for the Clippers’ franchise. After trading Paul, it looks like things are only going to get rougher as the year goes on. My biggest question surrounding the Clippers is… will the Lakers finish the season with a better record than the Clippers?

11 – Los Angeles Lakers – 8-12

The Lake show has been interesting to watch, but they have a ways to go before they are as competitive as they wished they would be this year. Lonzo Ball has been the story, mostly because of his dad, but he is only shooting 31% from the field and 25% from 3. His 8.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 7.1 assists per game are pretty impressive though. The kid can ball and looks to be the real deal. Rookie Kyle Kuzma is one of the stories of the year as he averages 16.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. The development of these two is what to watch with this team.

12 – Memphis Grizzlies – 7-12

Memphis is the laughing stock of the league after firing head coach David Fizdale. Fizdale is well thought of around the league. He will land on his feet just fine. This is a team with a lot of questions. They are old. They have no identity. They will be better than 12th in the West, but things are looking good for the Griz. Will they sell at the trade deadline?

13 – Phoenix Suns – 8-14

They fired their coach in the first week of the season, they traded their best player, they are the youngest team in the league. The Suns will be just fine, in a few years but look like they are going to have a top-5 pick in the upcoming draft, which could be crazy talented!

14 – Sacramento Kings – 6-15

Not a ton has gone right for the Kings this season, but they beat the Warriors at Oracle Arena on Monday. That is a game that will live in infamy for Sacramento for years to come. The Kings are a strangely built team with a lot of young talent and a lot of vets. Their draft in June was one of the more intriguing drafts in recent years. This could be a good team in a few years, or they could be the same ol’ Kings.

15 – Dallas Mavericks – 5-16

Dirk Nowitzki deserves better. Dennis Smith Jr. would be rookie of the year without a guy named Ben Simmons. But other than that, the Mavs are terrible.

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Garrett Thornton

Garrett has been a Senior Writer for Oregon Sports News for 4 years. In that time Garrett has primarily covered the Portland Trail Blazers. He has also started his series “Breaking Vegas with Garrett Thornton”, picking NFL games against the spread. Along with his coverage of the Blazers and NFL, Garrett covers Oregon Ducks football. 

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