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Article:Western Conference Outlook

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The Western Conference is as loaded as Tony La Russa behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. 10 team post winning records, with 9 of them having 33+ wins as of February 21st. Only 5 games separate the team in 1st (New Orleans) and the team in 9th (Golden State). If the season ended today, the Warriors would miss the playoffs, but if they were in the Eastern Conference, the Bay Area would be hosting a first round match up. The West was already wild, but all these trades have made it impossible to pick a favorite.

Shaq and Jason Kidd are both 0-1 in their debuts from last night. It’s going to take a little time for both of them to adjust. Shaq seems like a square piece in a round hole. He did play 29 minutes in just his first game in Phoenix, scoring 15 and pulling down 9 rebounds. Not a bad first showing, but they did allow 130 points and lose. Kidd had only 5 assists and 8 points for Dallas, as Chris Paul straight owned him.

Here are the 10 teams above .500 in the West, core players, with new acquisitions in bold. (In order of current standings.)

New Orleans Hornets:

Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, ( Mike James, Bonzi Wells, if trade goes through)

Chris Paul is my MVP as of right now. Last night, he had 31 points, 11 assists, and 9 steals against J-Kidd and the Mavs. He’s averaging 21-11 and shooting a pretty good percentage. West and Chandler can do all the dirty work and Peja is back shooting from deep. I’m not sure they can hold on to the top spot in the West or win the whole thing, but certainly not a team you would want to face. Can Paul carry them to the Finals?

Los Angeles Lakers:

Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and the bench mob

Right now I’m leaning towards picking the Lakers to win the West, even though I’m a Celtics fan and hate the Lakers. The addition of Gasol, or should I say the thievery that was the Gasol deal, has put this team over the top. The Lakers are 7-1 with Pau. It’s going to be interesting to see how he and Bynum play together, but suddenly they have Odom playing a role that he is much more comfortable with. They don’t need to count on him to score, but he still does. Kobe is Kobe, and these guys look like they are headed to the NBA Finals.

Phoenix Suns:

Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal, Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw

You can’t get crazy about last night no matter what happened in Shaq’s debut. It’s going to take more than 1 game to see how the deal will play out. Amare is going to put up ridiculous numbers (37-15 last night), but it does not matter if they lose 130s to 120s. Who’s playing defense on this team? Raja Bell? He gave up 40 last night to Kobe. Nash, Amare, and Shaq at this stage of his career, are not going to scare you at the defense end. I’m looking forward to Friday when Boston comes to town. Shaq’s first 3 games in Phoenix: Lakers, [[Boston Celtics|Celtics[[, Pistons. They could go 0-3. When they sent Shawn Marion to Miami, they were the number 1 seed in the West. Now I don’t think they host a 1st round series. I know they had not made the Finals with the current Big 3 of their own (Nash, Amare, Matrix), but this year with the make up of the West I thought they could have. We’ll see.

Utah Jazz:

Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Paul Millsap, Matt Harping

It doesn’t get a whole better for a 1-2 punch in basketball than Williams and Boozer. The addition of Korver has given the Jazz a whole new element to their attack. I love the combination of talents they have here, with bangers like Boozer and Millsap, shooters in Okur and Korver, slashers in AK-47 and Brewer, and of course one of the top point guards in the game in Williams. This is just another team in the West that you could not be shocked if they won it all. Early prediction is that the Jazz lose in the conference finals to the Lakers.

San Antonio Spurs:

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Damon Stoudamire, Kurt Thomas.

No one is talking about the Spurs. Maybe we should be. As soon as you count them out, you’ll see Tim Duncan holding the Championship trophy in the air for 5th time in his career. But still, like everyone else, I’m not convinced they will be there. They have been winning it every other year, so maybe it’s not meant to be. What a great gift for a top 4 seed it would be to have to face the Spurs. Good luck.

Dallas Mavericks:

Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Brandon Bass, Eric Dampier.

I’ll be honest: I liked the Kidd deal, and I don’t think that they gave up too much to get them. Devin Harris and what else? The two first round picks will be low and a guy like Antoine Wright is only 24 and will be better than anyone they could get at the end of this years draft. Kidd still has something left in the tank, his rebounding and assists numbers are huge this year even though he has struggled shooting from the field. I did not think they could win the whole thing prior to the Kidd trade, now they at least have a chance.

Houston Rockets:

Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Skip to my Lou, Luis Scola, Bobby Jackson (if trade goes), Luther Head, Carl Landry

I think the Rockets end up missing the playoffs. Even if they get in you can’t like T-Mac’s chances of advancing. It looks like they might be parting with Mike James and Bonzi Wells, and bringing in veteran point guard Bobby Jackson. (Jackson would be great in a Celtic’s uniform.) Despite being just 4.5 games out of first the Rockets will be fighting to make the playoffs for the rest of the year.

Denver Nuggets:

Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, Anthony Carter, J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza.

Is there a more talented starting lineup in the league? Maybe not. But they have always had a hard time putting it all together. I think they do get in the playoffs even though they are one of the only teams in the West not to make a move. (As of now). These guys can obviously beat anyone on any given night, but what about 4 out of 7? You know they will score enough points. The question remains, is Camby enough on defense?

Golden State Warriors:

Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Al Harrington, Andris Biedrins, Chris Webber, Matt Barnes, Keleena Azubuike, Mickael Pietrus.

The Chris Webber addition doesn’t look like it’s going to be much of a boost. He starts sure; I don’t see him as a major factor however. The way they shoot the 3, early and often, they can certainly beat anyone. Like the Nuggets it will be difficult for the Warriors to advance far in the playoffs. I know they beat the Mavs last year in the 1-8 match up. I say they do get in the playoffs led by Baron Davis, but it ends in the 1 st round this year.

Portland Trail Blazers:

Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldrige, Travis Outlaw, Jarrett Jack, Martell Webster, Steve Blake

It was a nice run early in the season; they just could not keep up with all these great teams in the West. At 28-25, they have still surpassed expectations without Greg Oden. Definitely keep an eye on this team going forward. Brandon Roy has been great to watch and they play team basketball. Of the 10 teams on this list, I have the Blazers and Rockets missing out on the playoffs in the end.

This list could get a shake up as the NBA trade deadline is minutes away. Players like Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, Ron Artest, Ben Wallace, and more could be moving around. Who else will make a move? The next couple of months will be great, a lot of questions still left to be answered.

-Rich Keefe

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