NBA Playoffs: The Best of the West

Jim at Desk 2014by Jim Feist

Start your engines! The NBA playoffs have started, time for endless full court action every night as the league crowns another champion. Let’s take a look at the best of the West, the conference that has won 12 of the last 17 NBA titles, including last season.

Warriors: The defending champs look even better! Golden State’s front office took some heat the last few years for trading for Andruw Bogut (“we needed some height”) and for jettisoning a winning coach a year ago. Well hats off, because this team has been a juggernaut, tops in the NBA in scoring and third in field goal shooting defense.

26-year old Klay Thompson (22.7 ppg) and 28-year old Stephen Curry (30 ppg) provide the offense from outside, but a slew of talent role players give Golden State incredible depth and flexibility.  Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green provide frontcourt muscle, while Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa excel off the bench.  They have been unstoppable at home and will have home court all the way to the Western Conference Finals.  Blazers vs Clippers 1

Spurs: This team won the title two years ago and look better with newcomers 30-year old LaMarcus Aldridge (18 ppg) and 35-yeard old David West (7 ppg). The Spurs play great defense under Gregg Popovich, tops in the league in points allowed, plus use an awesome array of depth to blitz opponents, ranking 8th in the NBA in scoring and second in three-point shooting behind Golden State.

San Antonio still has the veteran Big Three of 39-year old Tim Duncan (8.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg), 38-year old Manu Ginobili (9.5 ppg) and 33-year old Tony Parker (12 ppg, 5.4 apg). Popovich has done a great job in limiting the minutes of the Big 3.  The Spurs have won 50 or more games in an astonishing 17 straight seasons, breaking the longest streak in league history behind the Lakers, who won 50 12 times in a row from 1979 to 1991.
The Spurs rely heavily on their bench, which leads the league in scoring for the sixth straight season, with role players Danny Green and Boris Diaw, plus Kawhi Leonard (21 ppg, 6.8 rpg) now a starting offensive and defensive star leading the team in scoring.
Coach Gregg Popovich and Duncan have 5 NBA title rings and they know defense is essential in the postseason. After ranking 17th in points allowed and 21st in field goal shooting percentage defense, the Spurs have improved to 9th, 8th, 13th and 2nd in field goal defense the last four seasons.

Thunder: Oklahoma City hasn’t been back to the NBA Finals since their 2012 appearance, but they are still a force with 27-year old 6-9 Kevin Durant (28 ppg, 8.3 rpg), 27-year old do-it-all guard Russell Westbrook (23.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 10.4 apg) and 6-foot-10 26-year old Serge Ibaka (12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
They are an offensive dynamo, third in the NBA in scoring, but play better defense than you might think for first-year coach Billy Donovan, sixth in the league in FG shooting defense. If they get to the Finals keep in mind OKC is 17-8 under the total against the Eastern Conference.

Hoops ArenaLA Clippers: Adding guard Chris Paul (18.8 ppg) with 27-year old Blake Griffin (23 ppg, 8.7 rpg) is certainly a nice one-two punch to upgrade any franchise, especially on offense. Griffin is finally back after missing more than half the season. They are Top 10 in the NBA in scoring and points allowed. LA is 26-7 under the total when their opponents allows 100+ in the previous game.
The depth is better for third-year Coach Doc Rivers, with Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, JJ Redick and Jeff Green. Rivers has gotten DeAndre Jordan to focus on defense with 14 boards and 2.3 blocks per game. The Clippers’ bench set a team high for the season in last month’s 114-90 win over the Celtics by scoring 67 points. They will be fun to watch in the playoffs but here’s one warning: The Clippers rank 28th in free throw shooting. Well that hurt in close playoff games?

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