The NBA spent a lot of time early this season trumping up the Eastern Conference, and National writers even went so far as to point out that the West was "struggling". I find that to be the very HEIGHT of small sample size. After all, you, me, all the National writers, and your childhood best friend's pet dog all know that the NBA Finals is going to be dominated by a team from the Western Conference. Currently the Top Eight teams in the West occupy the top 16 teams in the NBA by percentage, true. But the Top Four teams in the West are the Top Six teams overall, and the Top three in the league are all from the West. I cannot fathom wasting any more time on defending the West against the East. After all, 12 of the last 17 Champs were from the Bestern Conference. It would have been more if Detroit didn't face an injured LA in the 2004 finals, and if Wade didn't flop his way past Dallas in 2006. I know there's more population out East, and thus more clicks (or cash), but let's be real. The West is where it's at. As a result, let's focus on the West. And let's look at how the Top 8 teams stack up right now.
There are distinct tiers in the West. The Golden State Warriors are the clear #1, but are an actual injury or two to a rotation player away from watching the San Antonio Spurs pass them. In a distant third we find the Oklahoma City Thunder. And 3.5 games behind them we have the Los Angeles Clippers. Then there's the rest of the West. The Memphis Grizzlies are closer to the #9 seed than they are to the #1 seed. Right now they are two games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks, who are 1.5 games ahead of the Houston Rockets, who are just half a game ahead of the Utah Jazz. The Portland Trail Blazers are half a game behind the Jazz, but funk them.
When you look at the Western Conference playoff teams by Points per game, Opponents points per game, pace of play, Offensive Rating, and Defensive Rating you get this:
- GSW is off the charts with their scoring -- being above 110 in PPG and ORTG. SAS and OKC are also above 110 in ORTG. These three teams are amazing. GSW and SAS are both AVERAGING a double digit margin.
- MEM, DAL, and HOU are all on the wrong side of their point differential for both PPG vs OPP, and ORTG vs DRTG. They give up more than they take.
- Pace of play is a funky thing. UTA is the slowest team out there, but have the 6th best ORTG and 4th best DRTG. But, well, it's clear that you can be GOOD at those things while playing faster than we do. GSW and SAS are good models to follow for that.
Ultimately, yes, there's a caste/class system in the West. But one way to move up is to actually hang with the best of the West, and make the playoffs. I think the Utah Jazz have a great chance to do that this year. And sure, there's no logical expectation of a first round victory against GSW, SAS, or OKC. But hey, Sic Parvis Magna, amirite?
Yes, the bottom of the West is a wasteland right now. The Lakers are focused on maximizing their draft position. The Suns are setting. The Timberwolves are young, but not quite hungry enough yet. And the Pelicans are still in a miasma. I believe that the Nuggets are getting better -- unlike the Kings. Overall the West are not all titans. But the Western Conference Playoffs will bring forth the next champion. And at the end of the day, being part of that melee will help the Jazz.