The news of Kobe Bryant‘s expected shut down is as good of a sign that the NBA season is reaching the stretch run. Contenders prepare for the playoffs and tanking teams continue their attempts at a subtle tank season.
The Eastern Conference is standard, with only four real intriguing teams (and only two contenders for the championship). There’s the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, two teams with so much coverage that a casual fan could assume the Eastern Conference was just two teams.
Then, the two emerging teams, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors. One plays with stifling defense and an anchoring center in Joakim Noah and the other plays with the best point guard in the East and a group of improved players.
But, the crowded Western Conference presents the juiciest matchups. From steady veteran team, San Antonio Spurs to confident Houston Rockets. There are at least six teams that could claim the Western Conference’s bid in the NBA Finals. The top two, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, each won 47 games. While the Spurs are consistent and healthy, the Thunder need a few question marks addressed. From chemistry of Russell Westbrook in the lineup to the overall defensive lapses without Thabo Sefolosha, there are some issues to iron over.
After the two, the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers are right behind. The Rockets present a difficult match up for any team. James Harden is playing lights-out after an inconsistent start to the season, Dwight Howard‘s been healthy and dominant over stretches, and the entire starting lineup (Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, and Terrence Jones) rival any starting five. The Clippers are entering the stretch with the least amount of publicity, which may work in their favor. They’re not a surprise team.
Then the last two, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors, round up the packed playoff hunt. It should be a race of surprises and a great playoffs regardless of what team colors grace your household.
As for the Los Angeles Lakers, at least they’re competing for the Western Conference’s worst record with the Sacramento Kings (22-42). Or for those savvy to tankers, the race for the best possible lottery pick.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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