Dec 21, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates a score with forward Kevin Durant (3right) during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT

Western Conference Power Rankings: Contenders Notwithstanding


Handicapping the Wolves Playoff odds early on was an exercise I performed by dividing the fifteen teams out West into three categories — Contenders, Competition and Not Likely Either.

I did this privately. I never wrote this stuff down, much less typed it all up on here — so just take my word for it and let’s see how it’s all playing out.

Group One: the Contenders

San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors

The defending Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs don’t really need an explanation for being included on this list. They took the Miami Heat within a Ray Allen Hall of Fame Capstone Moment of the title. I didn’t expect Manu Ginobili to bounce back the way he has or Greg Popovich to limit Kawhi Leonard’s minutes like he’s Manu Ginobili, but I still expect Tim Duncan to play until he becomes a corpse and produce like he’s Tim Duncan until that time.

The Thunder are a mystery to me. In some ways they win in spite of themselves. James Harden, to Kevin Martin, to Lamb Reggie Jackson instead of jettisoning Kendrick Perkins or lowballing Serge Ibaka or just rolling with the distraction — anyway, this is two years ago now — the myth of Thunder G.M. Sam Presti being infallible is demolished. The knees of Russell Westbrook could well be next. In the meantime, Kevin Durant, Westbrook, Playoffs…

Houston was on the contender list by virtue of the hype surrounding their acquisition of Dwight Howard. I further buoyed my enthusiasm with the wild card that still is Omer Asik’s trade value. The idea of Asik bodying up a post presence like Zach Randolph or Nikola Pekovic while Howard swooped in for the weak side block (or allowed the weak side offensive rebound) was just too intriguing a frontcourt to pair with James Harden and Chandler Parsons and whoever they decide and let play the Mario Chalmers role. The problem is Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey hasn’t figured out why Jeremy Lin and Asik don’t have the value he thinks they do and that Harden hasn’t really showed up for the season yet.

The Los Angeles Clippers are thin in their frontcourt, depend on their perimeter scoring too much for my taste, but are coached by Doc Rivers and led by Chris Paul. So they’re contenders. And obnoxious…

Coming off a Playoff run which made them league darlings, Golden State is full of hope, hype and issues. They lost their backup point guard that allowed them to play Steph Curry off the ball when Jarrett Jack got paid by Cleveland. They lost their frontcourt bench scoring when Carl Landry got paid by Sacramento. They landed a premiere wing defender and point-forward in Andre Iguodala. They are relying on oft-injured Curry, David Lee and Andrew Bogut and have no one this side of Harrison Barnes to back them up — that’s a bad thing. (I do like Nemanja Nedovic, though.)

Golden State is the only one of these five out of the top 5 in the West. Similar to the Wolves, they’ve struggled against opponents .500 and better — 5-9 to the Wolves’ 4-9. Iggy’s missed some time and hasn’t always been the ball-handler capable of allowing Curry to be off the ball, but Curry’s put up MVP numbers, regardless.

Of these five, only OKC and San Antonio are more than 5 games ahead of the 9th seeded, 15-15 Wolves.

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