When discussing the West these days, you have to start with the playoff race. The from the two seed all the way down to the eight seed is incredibly small. I mean it’s only THREE losses currently – which is quite extraordinary, considering we are approximately 75 games in (Editor’s note: After Denver’s beatdown of Portland on Thursday, the Blazers are now 4 losses back of the #2 Utah Jazz in the loss column). When breaking down how teams stack up against each other this close to the second season, I like to put things into perspective based on how likely it is for each team to win the title this year. When looking at it this way, Denver needs to be addressed right after the Lakers in the West.
Several times during the last 14 months I have thought that the Nuggs had real potential to take the Lake Show in the playoffs. To me, they pose as realistic of a threat to the Defending Champs (yes, capitalized on purpose) as anybody. But that is with one huge if, which I think is something that should be getting at least some media attention – Kenyon Martin’s injury. If K-Mart cannot come back for the playoffs, the Nuggs probably won’t even get out of the first round. The Nuggets without him, in comparison to the well-oiled machine running when he was around, have been like night and day. I literally just looked up the gambling statistics, as I was curious to how the Nuggets have done lately compared with what they were supposed to do, and the numbers back me up all the way. The Nuggs are 1-4 against the spread in their last 5 games, the same goes for their last 5 home games, and they are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 games as a favorite. And get this: they are 0-8-1 in their last 9 games overall (Editor’s note: That was before Thursday’s win over Portland).
If you were gambling on the Nuggs after K-Mart went down, you felt like College Wolf and I did in Vegas during March Madness 2006. Long story short, we laid fat cash on Mr. Potato Head Foye’s Villanova team, twice, and got our hearts and wallets broken both times in ridiculous fashion. I’ve never seen a guy puff so many Marlboro Mediums in my life. And College Wolf and I were both deep into the Hennessey too. That’s what we do when we put really big money on something. That’s our thing. But enough about our desert drought in 2006. The Nuggs are really a different team when K-Mart is gone. I have been witnessing it with my eyes, and the stats back it up. Birdman is great on defense overall, but he looks to have lost a half-step, and isn’t quite following up his 2nd-coming out party last year. And Nene is down a little bit this year too. Nene and Bird both had career years last year, and you can not expect that out of them every year. But K-Mart was the guy who really stepped it up in the frontcourt for them this year. Without him, they are toast in the playoffs. But with him – I still like their chances against anyone in the West not named the Defending Champs.
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For starters, Melo is a bonafide top 5 MVP guy. He, along with D Wade & King James, are the guys who ALWAYS look like studs when they play with the studs. Think international, Olympic, or All-Star games. they are the stars among the stars. Those three. Right now, they are the best overall players in the league, with the Durantula quickly climbing up to that level. I suppose I will still give Kobe the 5th spot, but I doubt he will be up there in another 2 years. Bosh is another guy who plays like a stud against the studs. I have never been a big Bosh guy overall, but I have to give him that. He was the best big man on the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal US team, and he has looked fantastic in the All-Star games the last few years too. It will be interesting to see what happens to him next year when he is out of Toronto. He could have an enormous year. That reminds me, of all the free agents to be, other than Bosh, I think Wade is going. I would bet money he’s not in Miami next year. I would bet on Lebron staying. And Kobe’s not leaving in 2011.
So back to the playoff race…at this point you can’t really bank on any matchups, because everything aside from the Lake Show in the one spot could change at any day. But the way I look at the West – obviously the Lakers are the favorite. Although I do not like them and their primadonna ways, I can not dispute that. After that, like I said, if K-Mart is healthy I have the Nuggs, but without him they are in the middle to bottom of the playoff pack. They just don’t have enough depth up front, or even on the wings. Their best 3 backups (aside from Birdman, who is currently starting) are all guards (JR Swish, Ty Lawson, and AC). And the ongoing battle with cancer George Karl is facing could leave them without their true head coach come playoff time. By the way, K-Mart is a gangster. I mean, in general terms he seems like an unintelligent meathead, but he is a bad man. For one, he has a red lipstick tattoo on his neck – courtesy of his girlfriend Trina, the rapper, who is known in the hip-hop community as “Da Baddest B*tch”. I can not even repeat her lyrics here, but K-Mart must be laying it down! And have you ever seen him in an interview? I know a “nervous tick” is not supposed to be funny, but his is – he drops “ya know what I’m sayin” approximately 7 times per interview. YouTube it, I bet it’s on there. Okay, enough about the Nuggs.
After the LakeShow and the Nuggs (but only with a healthy K-Mart and George Karl back) the Mavs and Jazz are the next candidates. It is hard to argue with the Mavs record and progress since the Butler trade. That was a fantastic trade for them. Caron is definitely one of the underappreciated and underrated rock solid guys with a ton of tools and few flaws. And he is a true two way player, none of this Steve Nash I only play on one side of the court junk. Caron also has a ferocity that I can’t wait to see again in the playoffs. It has been awhile since he’s attended. It is hard to quantify what kind of playoff success this team could have, but there is definite potential there. Aside from the aforementioned Lakers and a healthy Nuggs team, this is the only other team in the West who could make it to The Finals without completely shocking me.
Right below the Mavs, I am slotting in the Jazz. Jerry Sloan teams rarely give away games or ho-hum wins, and they are never an easy out in the playoffs. Their home court is as influential as any in basketball, and Deron Williams is one of the 10 best players in the NBA. There I said it. But I believe it. More on him another time. I also like the way that CJ Miles and Wesley Mathews have really come out this year. They add some scoring, athleticism, and depth to the wings, although the loss of Ronnie Brewer is still bothersome. But in the end, I can not see the Jazz in the Finals. I can see the Spurs there over the Jazz, although I would take the Jazz’ chances over the Spurs to make it to the 2nd round. In other words, right now the Jazz are better, but the Spurs still have a higher ceiling in these playoffs, due to their experience and the potential dominance of a healthy Big 3.
If everyone is healthy – huge if by the way – they are a tough out. And BatManu Ginobili (see picture, as he is about to eliminate a bat) has been obscene lately. He is so fun to watch. How can you not love the way he slithers through the lane with unmatched flexibility and mobility. Is it too much to call that grace? Watch Ginobili somehow burn/turn/wiggle/stride/pivot/
Oklahoma City – you gotta love em. I used to be a Twitter fiend, and the Oklahoma City guys are fantastic on twitter. Any of you NBA fans on twitter – you really should be following Durantula, J. Green, Westbrook, Harden, and yes, Collison. But the first 4 guys I mentioned ALWAYS hang out, and just go do stuff like normal 20-24 year olds would do. It is great. Will they will win a playoff series this year? Absolutely not. I think of all 8 West playoff teams, when not looking at what matchups are actually drawn out, the Thunder have the least chance of winning a playoff series. It is just not their time yet. But their year has impressed me as much as any team’s (although Milwaukee is a close second). The Blazers are solid, but seem like a first round out too. They do not have any dynamic playoff performers save for Brandon Roy. B. Roy is another underrated stud, ala Deron Williams and Caron Butler. The same principle that pertains to the Thunder and Blazers holds true for the Suns. I just do not trust Amare, and Nash cannot do it alone. They had a commendable regular season, but they just don’t have the roster for a postseason run. It seems like the trend of the week among the NBA media is to jump on the Suns playoff bandwagon. I am just not seeing it. The age and athleticism barriers facing them at the wing positions, where J-Rich and Grant Hill are their main threats, are bothersome. And a frountcourt of Amare Stoudamire, Bob Lopez, and Channing Frye does not frighten me come playoff time.
Finally, for an NBA Survivor Update… It is historically insane how close it has been and how the lead has changed hands several times in the past weeks. I mean we have done this for 153 days. We are at over 4,000 points. By now there is usually a lot of separation. But I did make big strides this week. On Tuesday, College Wolf suddenly sent out a flurry of angry e-mails to the group, talking about how he “got screwed” and how it was “basically over”. I told you, this game gets intense. I think it was because he finally played Kobe, whom both he and I have been trying to secretly hide all year (I still have him), to the tune of a whopping 13 survivor points (C. Wolf can especially thank Kobe’s 9 turnovers in that game). He also played Derrick Rose the day before him, and Yiiiii the day after him, to the tune of 21 and 14 survivor points, respectively. He had saved a few big guns, but they all let him down. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to me when I release the last of my big guns (I have a few, and I am pretty sure C. Wolf and BigBoy are now all out) in the next week or so. Here are the current standings (although this is before Thursday night, when C. Wolf played Camby, BigBoy played Barnes, and I had Batum. So C. Wolf could possibly lead after tonight. But fear not, my friends, I have been saving up for a run soon):
[CW EDIT: Batum came through with a big 2 Survivor points last night bwahahahahahaha!]
As always, thanks for your time. I will catch up with you next week to discuss the NBA season awards, as well as some final regular season thoughts, before we mix it up playoff preview style the following session.