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Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

Posted on: February 14, 2011 7:12 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2011 7:12 pm
 
Who are the contenders and pretenders in the NBA's Western Conference? Posted by Ben Golliver.
lakers


Before we get to the list of Western Conference contenders and pretenders, check out Adam Aizer, Greg Urbano and I as we discuss the most underrated and overrated teams in the NBA and more in our weekly CBSSports.com NBA podcast:  


CONTENDERS


Los Angeles Lakers: Loads of experience, high-end talent, top-notch coaching, size and length, defensive versatility and arguably the best one-on-one player in the game. If that’s not a championship-contending package I don’t know what is. 

Throw in the extra confidence boost that comes with being the two-time defending champs, and you’re looking at a team that can pencil its way into the Western Conference Finals, at the very least. Sure, there are questions: Andrew Bynum’s health, Derek Fisher’s age and Steve Blake’s facial hair, among others. But L.A.’s core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom – flanked by Bynum, Ron Artest and the other role players – is balanced and lethal, posing match-up concerns for everyone except, maybe, the Boston Celtics. Bet against the Lakers in Phil Jackson’s swan song season at your own risk.

San Antonio Spurs: Owners of the league’s best record, the ageless Spurs are perhaps the most Spurs-like rendition of themselves that we've seen. 

The three-man core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is still intact, but it has shifted focus seamlessly to a guard-dominated attack, with Duncan getting his fair share of rest throughout the regular season. To beat the Spurs you need to be disciplined, intelligent on defense and able to score from both inside and outside on a consistent basis. That's asking a lot, and none of the fringe playoff teams seem likely to rise to that challenge. 

The question, as always, is whether San Antonio’s role players will be up to the challenge when the bright lights turn on. They haven’t faltered yet this season and no one has devised a clear gameplan for how to exploit them. If the Spurs are to be beaten, it will happen in the paint and on the boards, where Duncan and undersized DeJuan Blair might not be able to keep pace against more imposing frontlines over a seven-game series. 

Dallas Mavericks: If you haven’t figured it out yet, those who have been there and done that before get an extra boost in my eyes when it comes to the Western Conference. 

Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion have been through plenty of fires and don’t figure to be knocked off this year by an upstart. Tyson Chandler’s presence in the middle has also been huge, leaving wing scoring as the biggest question mark after forward Caron Butler went down with a serious knee injury. Butler has been making noise about trying to return for the playoffs and the Mavericks have popped up in their fair share of pre-deadline trade rumors.  As currently constructed, the Mavericks will be a tough, tough out. Should they make a move in the next two weeks, a run to the Finals isn’t out of the question. 

PRETENDERS


Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder feels like the only legit wild card in the Western Conference, as top-5 NBA player Kevin Durant and top-10 NBA player Russell Westbrook look to get over the hump and win a playoff series, where other up-and-comers have failed in recent years. 

The issue all season has been defensive efficiency, a huge problem in the slow-it-down, grind-it-out, physical playoffs, when stops are at a huge premium and the shootouts stop after the first round. The Thunder’s solid frontcourt players – Jeff Green, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka – are guys that you like, want to love, but don’t totally trust when the money is on the line. More often than not during the playoffs, Thunder fans will be left hoping those guys play above their heads to keep a match-up even rather than forcing or exploiting a mismatch against the opposition. The good news: to make the jump to contender, the Thunder only need to get older. 

Denver Nuggets: Denver’s season got hijacked by Carmelo Anthony, but the Nuggets weren’t going anywhere anyway, even if their All-Star forward had agreed to sign an extension last summer. 

The Nuggets qualify as pretenders because there’s a decent chance Anthony is moved prior to the deadline – thereby torpedoing their chances – and because they’re a year older without improving on last year’s team, which got bounced in the first round. They’ve been healthier in recent months and have played some nice ball – but the consistency has been lacking. Their backcourt is just not talented enough; their frontcourt is just not long and versatile enough. If Anthony stays, and given the right match-up, they could win a series. That’s it.

New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets came flying out of the gates, starting the season 11-1, only to fall ahrd off of that pace, managing to play just .500 ball over the last 44 games. 

This team is still a better than average group, but better than average isn’t good enough to truly contend in the Western Conference.  Chris Paul has returned to MVP-like form and David West’s numbers are right there with the elite power forwards in the West, but we’ve learned over and over that two All-Star quality players surrounded by parts won’t get it done in the playoffs. The additions of Jarrett Jack and Trevor Ariza added some headiness and athleticism but they weren’t season-changers, and the Hornets bench is tough on the eyes. Throw in first-year coach Monty Williams, who has never dealt with game-planning for a seven-game series, and there’s more questions than answers with this team, rendering them a pretender.
Comments

Since: Aug 22, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 7:55 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

While I agree with KYNILLA that Portland is not a contender they are definately better than "squeeking into the playoffs".  They are currently 6th and could easily move up to 5th.  They will pass Denver and Utah and have an outside shot at OKC.  They matchup well with Dallas and San Antonio.  I'm not saying they could beat those guys in a 7 game series but they have already beaten them this season.  Portland has been in the playoffs 2 straight years after failing for a couple in our rebuilding time.  Don't go nuts on CLEVELAND1 for being optimistic.  The last 30 or so games left in the season should be very interesting.



Since: Apr 16, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 7:55 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

I can definitely see Portland winning it all. 
Matthews turned out to be a great investment, rudy is having great bench production, batum needs to be more aggressive, Camby is solid (when/if he comes back) pryzbilla is doing well, the new C is also doing well. miller is a decent PG, Roy will be Roy when he comes back. Aldridge and his new found publicity will take attention off of roy when he comes back. 
The blazers were hit very hard by injuries this year, and last year, and pulled through it. this year they are doing the same. I will ask any team to be without 3 of their starters and do very well. 



Since: Nov 10, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 7:42 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

Oh come on Cleveland1! I live in portland and the Blazers while they have done well with adversity are not in any way shape or form contenders. Hell there not even pretenders. He's talking about teams who have a chance at winning it all. Not teams like Portland who have a chance of squeeking into the playoffs only to get bounced in the first round for like the umteenth straight year! I will agree with you about Aldridge he has turned out to be one of the best 10-15 forwards in the league. But seriously you have to be smoking some of that northwest gonja if you think that right now they are contenders.



Since: Nov 10, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 7:41 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

Oh come on Cleveland1! I live in portland and the Blazers while they have done well with adversity are not in any way shape or form contenders. Hell there not even pretenders. He's talking about teams who have a chance at winning it all. Not teams like Portland who have a chance of squeeking into the playoffs only to get bounced in the first round for like the umteenth straight year! I will agree with you about Aldridge he has turned out to be one of the best 10-15 forwards in the league. But seriously you have to be smoking some of that northwest gonja if you think that right now they are contenders.



Since: Jun 7, 2010
Posted on: February 15, 2011 5:28 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

This just seems like Deja Vu where everybody writes the Lakers off then the playoffs come. It's like waking a sleeping giant.   Stay tuned.



Since: Apr 16, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 4:54 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

Contenders: Portland Trailblazers. 
Why?
LA is the most under-rated player in the NBA, forget he was snubbed from the All-star team, he can be considered an MVP contender with how he has saved this team after a boat load of injuries. (Batum, Roy, Pryzbilla, Oden, Camby) The fact they are now 6th in the west, and have a 5 game winning streak proves to me he is a top player in the NBA today. Why is portland a contender? They have been playing very well without their star, roy, without their centers for much of the season, and many are looking to come back. (I know batum is no longer injured) With them back, healthy, this is a team to fear. Roy is a great defender, great shooter, very athletic. Camby is an under-rated center, LA will do what he does and take attention off of Roy, Fernandez off the bench is a threat, Matthews has proven to be a great investment at starting SG. With a healthy Roy this team is a contender. Lets hope roy stays off until he is ready though, come back after the all-star break at the earliest IMO



Since: Dec 31, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 4:01 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

The Lakers are pretenders this year, plain and simple.  They don't have it.  San Antonio is the team to beat out west... 



Since: Apr 25, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 2:58 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

I think the Mavs end up winning the western conference. They have to want a championship right now more than any other team in the league.

The Lakers just dont seem to have it this year and I think they lose to the Mavs in a 7 game series.

The Spurs are playing great at home but i think that they can be upset in a 7 game series if the other team can steal one in San Antonio.

The Thunder has a legit shot at upsetting one of these top teams. They have Durant and Westbrook and if they both get hot look out. Those two have the potential to take over a game and upset a top seed, but I don't think they can beat 2 of these teams in a row in back to back series.



Since: Apr 2, 2010
Posted on: February 15, 2011 1:17 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

To say that the Denver backcourt is just not talented enough is rediculous. Chauncey billups, afflalo, j.r. smith, ty lawson, maybe even gary forbes. That is a very talented backcourt to me.  The Nuggets problem is the effort on the defensive end of the floor.



Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 9:03 am
 

Contenders or pretenders: Western Conference

I am enjoying keeping all of the new clips from so called sports experts about how the Lakers will repeat with their size and experience. Size and experience on old players playing like they are old does not result in a championship run. Every game the Lakers play gives the opposing team more confidence that they can beat the Lakers, because they are big and slow. The Laker management has shown with the changing of the guards that their replacements have done a very bad job of replacing personnel on the Lakers team. You can't replace young talent with old talent and expect good results. You have old talent on the bench waiting to give old talent on the court a rest and you have old talnt on IR waiting to come to the bench. What part of old on a basketball court don't you understand. You Lakers are in for a hard fall when the playoffs start. I am going to enjoy watching that fall more than watching our Spurs win the championship. All Laker fans know this is their last year of making a run for the title. But Jerry and his money will have you guys back in the thick of it in 5 to 10 years. Go SPURS.  SPURFANINLA.


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