It's January 28th right now, and for every team in the Western Conference half of the season is over. Right around the corner will be All-Star weekend, and then the trade deadline. And then . . . the race to the playoffs, and the race for the lottery. In previous seasons we charted the progress of the West nightly to see which team did what, in hopes for our team to make the playoffs. This is the opposite this time of the year, we're a bad team and making the playoffs with a bad team isn't going to have some Disney movie effect where the Head Coach reunites with his estranged dad, the star player makes up with his wife, and the player on the team with cancer has a successful surgery.
The NBA isn't a Disney movie, unless you are a big market team with star power -- where you get a frozen envelope for the #1 pick in the draft, the league allows you to cannibalize two teams to become a big three, or free agents seek to join your team well below their market value.
And because the NBA isn't a Disney movie, sometimes the only way to work your way up is to work your way down first. It's hard work to lose, some franchises are all for it and know how. Others, well, are too proud. Still, a third group just needs a little injury here or there to push them down that slope.
In the Western Conference there are three teams that kind of fit the bill: the Los Angeles Lakers, the Utah Jazz, and the Sacramento Kings.
The Lakers have nothing to play for this year. They're almost eliminated from the playoffs, their best player has yet to play a game (hey Kobe Bryant!) and their current group are a walking M*A*S*H unit. It's not pretty in LA-LA land where most of the attention is now on the Los Angeles Clippers -- fighting for a homecourt advantage.
Utah is clearly a team in transition. The front office scuttled the roster they cobbled together over the last few seasons in order to get expiring deals. Those deals don't mean anything if you just let them expire because no amount of cap space is going to make Utah attractive to top tier talent. The Jazz need to focus on building through the draft. Over the last few seasons they have been drafting plenty, but the building sometimes looks like it doesn't even have a foundation yet -- and this is year four for Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors.
And then there's the Kings. Vivek R is the odd-ball millionaire who is used to doing odd-ball things in order to win. He knows the long play and is willing to take the chances to look bad now, in order to dominate later. He, himself, coached his daughter's horrible basketball team to success through a defense first game plan that was ugly all the time. He's willing to embrace the ugly in order to get the desired result. And we just saw his team finish the game (or not even start the game) without their three best players -- DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Isaiah Thomas. The end result was losing the season series against the Jazz and they appear to be in the driver's seat at the bottom of the Western Conference.
We're not going to be doing the nightly recaps until after the trade deadline, but I did want to give you all a snapshot of what the West looks like right now, the night after the Jazz climbed out of the cellar.
What you see here are the win and loss records, and how many games behind a team is from the top. What I also included was how many games remaining (or left) a team has to play. Furthermore, how many of them were against the Top 10 in the West, and against the Bottom 5. The Top teams are expected to have no trouble against the bottom ones; especially as the games mean more, when the calendar approaches the playoffs.
|Team||W||L||%||Behind||Left||1 - 10||11 - 15||vs Weak %|
|1||Oklahoma City Thunder||36||10||78.3%||--||36||27||9||25.0%|
|2||San Antonio Spurs||33||11||75.0%||-2.0||38||29||9||23.7%|
|3||Portland Trail Blazers||33||12||73.3%||-2.5||37||28||9||24.3%|
|4||Los Angeles Clippers||32||15||68.1%||-4.5||35||26||9||25.7%|
|6||Golden State Warriors||27||18||60.0%||-8.5||37||31||6||16.2%|
|12||New Orleans Pelicans||18||25||41.9%||-16.5||39||32||7||17.9%|
|13||Los Angeles Lakers||16||29||35.6%||-19.5||37||30||7||18.9%|
So what do we see here? Well, the Jazz have the least number of games remaining to be played, tied with the Lakers. Utah also has the least number of games remaining to be played against a team currently seeded #11 to #15 in the West. This is no surprise because, well, the Jazz don't get the benefit of having to play against themselves. (No, only head coach Tyrone Corbin gets to pad his record against his team...)
The Kings are right *there* though too, only with one more game to play, and it's another game against a Bottom 5 seed. They are clearly capable of tanking in any situation with the plausible deniability of having guys 'injured'.
It's going to be a race to the finish line, or failure line, but it'll be a close race. You know. Between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. The Jazz are going to try to win as many games as possible and screw themselves out of a once in a generational player. Because mediocrity is the Jazz way, after all. ("If it's not working, it takes too much effort to fix" vs. "if it ain't broke, don't fix it") But kudos to the Jazz, you're playing .500 ball over the last 30 or so games. That's something to look forwards to. Just don't expect to be picking up a Jabari as a result.
But all of this is a moot point because the Eastern Conference is a 5th world nation at the bottom of the standings. It's going to be hard to beat them ALL out for a Top 5 pick in June.