By Hocine LOUKKAF on 12/10/2018
After two months of competition, the Western Conference has been as unpredictable as the Eastern has been unsurprising. As of now, each game brings a change of leader with the Warriors and Thunder being at the top today.
#1 Golden State Warriors (18-9)
After a nice start with only one loss during the first eleven games to the then leading Denver Nuggets, the Warriors have experienced some turmoil with seven losses during the last sixteen games despite an more versatile Kevin Durant (29.1pts 7.8rbds 6.3as). Of course, part of this is due to Curry (29.6pts 50% 3pt) being injured as he was there only for two of these losses, which shows that he’s still the boss of the team. They have also missed Draymond Green who has been out for almost a month now, which has given the opportunity for Looney to produce with 10pts 6rbds 4as over the last three games. Finally, Klay (22.6pts) is still struggling with “only” 35% 3pt, far from his career 41.8%. The schedule is far from being easy for December but the toughest games against Toronto, Memphis, Dallas, the two LA teams or Portland will be at home.
#2 OKC Thunder (16-8)
After four losses to start the season, the Thunder has found its cruising speed, with only three losses in November before a stupid loss to the tanking Bulls. PG13 (24pts 8rbds 4.4as) has been asked to score more, which he does pretty well despite lower shooting numbers compared to last year. Westbrook has been his usual self (22.8pts 10.8rbds 10.2as), yet OKC still is one of the worst shooting teams, mainly due to the star duo averaging only 32% from three and poor SGs as none of them (Ferguson, Diallo, Abrines) is averaging better than 6pts or 32% from three. Fortunately, their defense is top 10 in the League as they limit their opponents to 10pts per game, good for 5th. With away games at New Orleans, Denver, Houston or Dallas, OKC won’t have much rest until the new year.
#3 Denver Nuggets (17-9)
Until last friday, everything was going pretty well as the Nuggets were at the top of the Conference, mainly due to their magician center Jokic (16.7pts 9.7rbds 7.7as). Unfortunately, his frontcourt counterpart and team’s best rim protector, Paul Millsap, got injured and may miss an extended period of time. This is a tough hit for Denver which has lost its two last games against two average/mediocre teams, Charlotte and Atlanta. The four next games, at home, against Memphis, OKC, Toronto and Dallas, may indicate if the Nuggets can be strong without their veteran PF.
#4 LA Clippers (16-9)
Who said you need a star to win games. With a roster made of solid players, the Clippers have have a surprising start led by their forward duo, Harris (21pts 8.4rbds) and Gallinari (18.8pts 6.2rbds). The bench has been nice too with the forever young Lou Williams (17.6pts 4.6as) and the energizer Montrezl Harrell (15.9pts 7.1rbds 1.6bl) one of the good surprises of the Chris Paul’s trade. Rookie Gilgeous-Alexander (10.6pts 2.9as) has proved he was no fluke but will need more help from the SG position where defensive specialists Bradley and Beverley are struggling from outside with a poor 30% combined. After two losses against Memphis and Miami, the Clippers could use their next game against Phoenix to gain some momentum.
#5 LA Lakers (16-10)
After six losses during their first ten games, the Lakers have slowly but surely risen in the standings where they stand currently at five. Of course, Lebron’s arrival has changed everything with the King still as dominating as ever (28.3pts 7.7rbds 6.9as). Forwards Ingram and Kuzma have benefited from James creativity but they will need to improve their shooting as none of them averages more than 32% from three. Same goes for Ball who is in competition with the now-injured Rondo but has not been able to stay consistent when given the green light. The main satisfaction is the center spot as McGee (11.9pts 6.7rbds 2.5bl) is having the best season of his career and brings much needed rim protection. With games against Charlotte, Washington or Brooklyn coming soon, LA could gain some confidence before tougher matchups against Memphis or Golden State.
#6 Memphis Grizzlies (15-10)
After last year’s tanking, the Grizzlies were lucky enough to get a top five pick they used pretty well by drafting Jaren Jackson Jr . The rookie has been inconsistent (14.2pts 4.4rbds 1.9bl) but has shown some signs of greatness and will be the team’s future at the four spot. Gasol (17.1pts 9.1rbds) and Conley (20.3pts 6.5as) have also received help from glue guy Kyle Anderson (6.7pts 6.4rbds 3.2as) and more recently Joakim Noah who will allow Gasol to take more rest. With games against Denver, Golden State, Portland or the Lakers over the next two weeks, Memhis will have the opportunity to test its most serious opponents.
#7 Portland Trailblazers (15-11)
For more than five years, the Blazers have been at least 50% at the end of the year. Yet, the team has not changed really in a tougher than ever Western Conference. With six losses over the last nine games, it’s hard to imagine another ambition than reaching the playoffs. Lilliard is doing what he can (27.2pts 6.4as) despite the rumors with only McCollum (21.2pts) and Nurkic (15pts 10.6rbs) as the other real scoring options. The Blazers have a very tough schedule over the next three weeks which could determine if some change will happen.
#8 Dallas Mavericks (13-11)
Maybe the Mavericks needed that six-losses streak to understand whay they had to do to succeed. In november, Dallas has won against the Warriors, Celtics and twice against the Rockets including the last game where a clutch Doncic scored 11pts in the fourth quarter to win the fame. Talking about Doncic, the Slovenian has been as good as advertised (18.2pts 6.5rbds 4.1as) even if he logically still has room to improve. Jordan (11.2pts 13.8rbds) has reinvented himself with 76% from the FT line, which doesn’t make him a liability anymore in the clutch time. The next three games against Atlanta Orlando and Phoenix will be the occasion to prepare for a tougher second half od december with games against Denver, the Clippers or Golden State.
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