By: Sam Block
It is the middle of March, and you ALL know what that means…MARCH MADNESS! College Basketball has us booming with excitement right now, and for the next couple weeks, the madness will surely continue. We’ve seen a 16 seed beat a 1 seed for the first time, all of the top 4 seeds in the South Region eliminated before the Sweet Sixteen, and Sister Jean of Loyola Chicago take the world by storm. However, throughout all of this complete frenzy, you may have missed the crazy action going on in the NBA. I am going to take you on a ride, and we will be traveling through the Wild Wild West. Buckle up!
1. Houston Rockets (56-14)
How about this squad?! WOW! James Harden and company have the Rockets on top of not only the Western Conference, but the entire National Basketball Association. James Harden for MVP? Yeah, I think so. And do not forget about Chris Paul and Clint Capela, because with those three in the lineup, the Rockets are nearly unstoppable. My guess is Houston finds a way to snag the number 1 seed over Golden State heading into the postseason. Will that matter? Well, maybe not so much.
2. Golden State Warriors (53-17) 3 Games Back
The Warriors are practically missing their entire roster right now…and are still 7-3 in their last ten games. That’s that Warriors for you. Steve Kerr tends to often be regarded as overrated, but he is doing a great job coaching an injury-riddled Golden State team right now. Just to put in perspective what Golden State is working with right now…Quinn Cook has played 80 minutes over the last two games. The thing is, he is BALLING OUT with an icy 53 points in those two contests. Golden State will likely be the two seed in the West when all is said and done. Come playoff time? They’ll be healthy and ready to defend their championship.
3. Portland Trail Blazers (44-26) 12 Games Back
The Portland Damian Lillards are scorching and I mean SCORCHING hot right now. Winners of 13 straight, the Portland boys are hard to contain these days. If Portland wants to stay this hot, they will need Jusuf Nurkic to continue to play the way he is capable of playing. The Bosnian Center is the real deal, but tends to display inconsistencies in his game. Over the 13 game win streak, Nurkic has 6 double-doubles, and has been a force of late. Another key piece to this Blazers puzzle is Al-Farouq Aminu. The 7-year man out of Wake Forest often gets overlooked but is more than capable on the offensive end, and is an excellent defender. I like Portland a lot, and their next 12 games will be stiff tests. Nine out of their final 12 opponents are currently teams with winning records.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-29) 14 Games Back
Everyone keeps talking about how disappointing the Thunder have been this season. I honestly beg to differ. OKC has won six straight games and is 14 games over .500. They also currently have the 6th best record in the entire league. Their most recent win? On the road in Toronto against a nearly unbeatable Raptors team. I am a believer in OKC to an extent. I do not believe they are good enough to beat Houston or Golden State in a 7-game series. I do however think they are the 3rd best team in the West, and the most dangerous opponent for either Houston or Golden State. Only time will tell what Russell Westbrook and Corey Brewer have in store for us come playoff time. Yes, I did say Corey Brewer…the dude is having a career rebirth right now.
5. Utah Jazz (40-30) 16 Games Back
Somebody go tell Utah they are not supposed to be this good. No, like seriously. They have won 9 straight and have not lost two straight games since January 15th. Quin Snyder is ridiculously underappreciated, Donovan Mitchell is my Rookie of the Year, hands down, and Rudy Gobert is the most underrated big man in the game. I also happen to love the way Ricky Rubio is playing right now and their trade deadline acquisition of Jae Crowder has been a PERFECT fit for both sides. I think the Jazz have a legitimate shot at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. START BELIEVING!
6. New Orleans Pelicans (40-30) 16 Games Back
I love me some Boogie Cousins, but his absence has hardly been felt. Do you know why? One man, and one man only. ANTHONY “THE BROW” DAVIS! WOWEEE! AD FOR MVP! Well, James Harden may have something to say about that, but still, Anthony Davis is nothing short of insane. AD has carried the Pelicans to a 13-4 record in their last 17 games, putting them in perfect position for a playoff run. The greatness of “The Brow” is well documented, but now let’s examine the other guys stepping up for New Orleans. Did anyone realize Jrue Holiday has literally been outstanding this season? Well he has. Averaging 19.3 points per game, 5.9 assists per game, and 4.5 rebounds per game, Jrue is having one of the best years of his NBA career. Guys like Nikola Mirotic, Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark, Emeka Okafor, and E’Twaun Moore are all contributing in big time ways. New Orleans has a bright future as long as they can keep AD in town.
7. San Antonio Spurs (40-30) 16 Games Back
Just a couple days ago, many NBA fans and analysts were counting out the Spurs. While I do believe the reign of the Spurs is truly over, I highly doubt Coach Pop will allow them to miss the postseason entirely. San Antonio has struggled over the past few weeks without their guy Kawhi Leonard, but after winning 3 straight, they are tied for 5th in the West again. LaMarcus Aldridge will need to put up monster numbers down the stretch until Kawhi is able to make a comeback.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (40-31) 16.5 Games Back
Can we all admit that Jimmy Butler was always the real reason this team made such a turnaround this season? Butler is gone, and so are the Wolves chances until he returns. For now, we will see if Minnesota can manage to hold onto a playoff spot with the Nuggets and Clippers breathing down their throats. I do believe Minnesota will find a way to sneak into the postseason, but it will really help their chances once they get there if they can find a way to earn a top 6 seed and avoid Houston and Golden State in Round One.
9. Denver Nuggets (38-32) 18 Games Back
What has happened to the Nuggets? After looking like they were in prime playoff position just a couple weeks ago, Denver is now on the outside looking in. While they sit 1.5 games back of Minnesota for the eight spot, they sit only 2 games back of Utah for the five spot. So clearly, it is not time to panic…YET. However, after losing by seven points to the lowly Grizzlies…maybe it is time to panic. Will Barton has struggled of late, Paul Millsap has not been a star, and now Gary Harris is banged up. Denver is still very much alive in the playoff hunt, but unless they get it together quickly, they’ll be watching the NBA Playoffs from home.
10. Los Angeles Clippers (37-32) 18.5 Games Back
Los Angeles has been a fun team to watch all season long. Lou Williams has been electric, DeAndre Jordan has played extremely well at times, and Tobias Harris has stepped in and played pretty well. My most impressive player of late has been former Louisville big man, Montrezl Harrell. I really really really like this guy. He was a force in the post at Louisville, and brings so much energy to the table each and every time he steps on the floor. Moving forward, I’d like to see Doc involve Harrell even more. The injury bug has hit the Clippers hard this season, and it may be too much to overcome. LA will likely just miss out on the postseason, and fall in the unfortunate middle of the NBA Draft.
The last few weeks of the NBA season are sure to excite. While about 10 NBA teams are tanking right now, approximately 20 are still fighting for the privilege of competing in the postseason. The race in the West is heating up by the day, and all of you should continue to follow it closely. Before you know it, Anthony Davis will have the entire city of New Orleans parading down Bourbon Street, and Russell Westbrook will be jawing back and forth with Kevin Durant in a heated game 7. Wishful thinking maybe…but ANYTHING is possible in the Wild Wild West.