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Stretching the Field: How will the West unfold?
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - There are exactly three weeks remaining in the NBA regular season and selecting which teams will make the Western Conference playoffs is easier than filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket.
Raise your hand if your bracket is already busted.
Both of my hands are up in the air with disappointment thanks to overrated squads such as Duke, Kansas, Syracuse, Villanova, Creighton and Wichita State.
And I had zero integrity by filling out more than one sheet.
When it comes to the NBA's better half of the two conferences, prognosticating how the Western playoffs will unfold seems elementary, so I'll give it a whirl.
(Note: The Eastern Conference is much more complex from seeds 3-8)
1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS - That was easy. Age is just a number for a veteran-laden Spurs' squad headed for another deep run in the playoffs. How genius is coach Gregg Popovich? The man is simply amazing and the players respond to his every word. There's plenty of tread left on Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the younger faces in Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli pick up the slack. I just can't see the Spurs losing out on the No. 1 spot.
2. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER - Do I even have to mention who comes in second in the West behind the Spurs? Well, I guess the Oklahoma City Thunder deserve a shout-out because they are pretty good, too, and have the NBA's leading scorer in Kevin Durant. Durant will probably win his first MVP award. OKC still has games against San Antonio, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers remaining on the schedule, and winning the top seed is unlikely.
3. HOUSTON ROCKETS - The high-scoring Rockets are sure glad, and lucky, Dwight Howard opted to join them after a tumultuous season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant's demanding ways and coach Mike D'Antoni's system were enough to make Howard hurl at the thought of returning to L.A. Howard, James Harden and a cast of key contributors will jump the Clippers for third.
4. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS - Long winning streaks, dazzling dunks, a loaded roster of talent. That's what the Clippers are all about. The Clippers have a tough schedule on the horizon with Western battles against Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Portland. That's why the Rockets will leap to third, but the Clippers could make more noise in the playoffs. It's hard to count out a deep run by All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
5. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS - If the Warriors can avoid facing San Antonio in the second round like they did last season, they have a true shot at making it to the conference finals. The "splash brothers" of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the inside presence of David Lee and Andrew Bogut should strike fear into any Western opponent if it hasn't happened already. Coach Mark Jackson has bled his rough, no-nonsense philosophy into this team.
6. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS - The Blazers could lose this spot if they don't get their act together. They have struggled in March and the injury to All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge has changed the landscape of the middle portion of the conference. Damian Lillard is a deserving All-Star and will need Aldridge come playoff time because Dorell Wright in the No. 4 spot won't work.
7. DALLAS MAVERICKS - The Mavericks were a participant in the NBA playoffs from 2000-01 to 2011-12 until missing out last season. They are desperate to get back to the postseason and the 1-2 punch of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis will get them there. Dallas may struggle on defense, but it can score with the best of the West. The addition of Ellis only made Rick Carlisle's team that much more potent offensively and with veteran Vince Carter tapping into the fountain of youth, the Mavericks can make the No. 2 Thunder worry somewhat.
8. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES - It was tough to select the Grizzlies over the Phoenix Suns, but both teams have played well this season. Nobody expected the Suns to thrive like they've had under rookie coach Jeff Hornacek and the Grizzlies were expected to be in the postseason for a fourth straight year anyway. Armed with guard Mike Conley and big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies will have a tough job against the Spurs in the first round and it will be another year of playoff disappointment.
03/26 13:35:19 ET
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