Before crunching the numbers on the teams in the Western Conference, a few specific predictions and storylines to keep an eye on:
1. If Chris Kaman returns soon for the Clippers, who are currently 2-13, the Clips will make a run at the playoffs. Not that I think Chris Kaman is some kind of superstar, but he’s a real C, and, as I’ve blogged before, teams that play a real C have a big advantage. (Even the Clippers.) Put Kaman with Blake Griffin, and you’re looking at a squad that will have the advantage in the paint against all but the best teams in the league. That matters, and will start to show up in the win column when Kaman comes back. Let’s hope that guy comes back soon, because the people who keep the standings for the NBA might stop publishing a win column in the Clippers’ row if he doesn’t.
2. Aside from the superstars, the most important player out West is Richard Jefferson. If that guy keeps ballin’ like he’s ballin’ then the Spurs will be in the mix until the very end.
3. I know that Steve Nash is immensely popular in Phoenix, but it just doesn’t make sense for an aging PG who is as good as he is to remain on a team that’s going nowhere. Hopefully one of the teams that’s a PG away from seriously contending (Memphis, Atlanta, Charlotte, and the Clippers come to mind) will find a couple of young assets to trade to Phoenix in order to grab Nash and make a run. Unless it’s the Heat, in which case my head might spin off of my neck as I try to decide whether or not to root for that team.
4. In making these predictions, I’m grading the Nuggets as if they will keep Carmelo, even though I expect them not to. It’s not that I have any inside info, it’s just that I can’t see Denver risking losing him for nothing after what just happened to Cleveland and Toronto.
5. As I type this, there are a bunch of major injuries that will have a big impact on the standings. David Lee is a difference maker for the Warriors. And Brandon Roy for the Blazers. Robin Lopez is also out, apparently for a month. That makes it tough to get a read on some teams, but if I waited any longer, I’d have to call these “reflections” instead of “predictions.”
So, while I can still call them predictions, here they are (in the case of ties, I put the teams in the order that I expect them to finish).