NBA Stretch Run: The Best of the West|
Courtesy of Jim Feist - Sports Analyst|
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Start your engines! The NBA playoffs have started, time for endless full court action every night as the league crowns another champion. Let's take a look at the best of the West, the conference that has won 11 of the last 16 NBA titles.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (1-SEED)
The team no one wants to play! Golden State?s front office took some heat the last few years for trading for Andruw Bogut ("we needed some height") and for jettisoning a winning coach a year ago. Well hats off, because this team has been a juggernaut under first-year coach Steve Kerr, tops in the NBA in field goal shooting defense, tops in scoring and assists.
Klay Thompson (21.5 ppg) and Stephen Curry (23 ppg) provide the offense from outside, but a slew of talent role players give Golden State incredible depth and flexibility. Bogut, David Lee and Draymond Green provide frontcourt muscle, while Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa excel off the bench.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS (6-SEED)
The defending champs paced themselves this season, battling injuries in the first half of the season, but they've been healthy and on a roll at the right time. That?s similar to what happened a year ago, too, with a 19-game win streak that wrapped up everything in the West. The Spurs play great defense under Gregg Popovich, plus use an awesome array of depth to blitz opponents, ranking 11th in the NBA in scoring, 5th in assists and Top 10 in points allowed.
San Antonio still has the Big Three of 38-year old Tim Duncan (14 ppg, 7 rpg), 37-year old Manu Ginobili (11 ppg) and 32-year old Tony Parker (14.8 ppg). Popovich has done a great job in limiting the minutes of the Big 3. The Spurs have won 50 or more games in an astonishing 16 straight seasons, breaking the longest streak in league history behind the Lakers, who won 50 12 times in a row from 1979 to 1991.
The Spurs rely heavily on their bench, which leads the league in scoring for the fifth straight season, with role players Danny Green, Boris Diaw, 7-foot Matt Bonner, 6-11 Tiago Splitter, plus Kawhi Leonard (16 ppg, 7.4 rpg) now a starting offensive and defensive star.
Coach Gregg Popovich and Duncan have 5 NBA title rings and they know defense is essential in the postseason. After ranking 17th in points allowed and 21st in field goal shooting percentage defense, the Spurs have improved to 9th, 8th and 13th in field goal defense the last three seasons.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (5-SEED)
Memphis is a young team few want to face, with a big frontcourt and a suffocating defense, second in the NBA in points allowed and Top 11 in field goal shooting defense. There's no denying the talent and depth on this team, led by 32-year old 6-9 Zach Randolph (16.6 ppg, 11 rpg), 7-foot-1 29-year old Marc Gasol (17.8 ppg, 9 rpg), guard Mike Conley (16 ppg) and newcomer 6-9 Jeff Green. The Grizzlies are 48-23-2 ATS at home against a team with a winning road record, plus 19-7-1 under the total at home.
HOUSTON ROCKETS (2-SEED)
Houston has given Dwight Howard the season off (for the most part) but hasn't missed a beat, Top 10 in the NBA in scoring and assists behind 25-year old James Harden (27 ppg, 7 apg). Harden is able to get the most out of a good collection of role players in 29-year old Trevor Ariza (12 ppg), Patrick Beverley and Josh Smith, the latter coming off the bench as sixth-man. Despite a dazzling offense, Houston has really upgraded the defense this season, Top 10 in field goal shooting defense, plus No. 1 at defending the three. Houston is 14-3 under the total against a team with a winning record.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (3-SEED)
Adding guard Chris Paul (18.8 ppg) with Blake Griffin (22 ppg, 7.6 rpg) is certainly a nice one-two punch to upgrade any franchise, especially on offense. This team is second in the NBA in scoring. But the depth and talent is exceptional for second-year Coach Doc Rivers, who has really helped to upgrade the defense, 14th in points scored, 5th in field goal defense, tops against the three-pointer.
Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are fine role players and Rivers has got DeAndre Jordan to focus on defense with 14.8 boards and 2.2 blocks per game. They will be fun to watch in the playoffs but here?s one warning: The Clippers rank 28th in free throw shooting. Will that hurt in close playoff games?
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