Where the Western Conference stands after the All-Star break

Adrian Dy on Feb 22, 2018 03:26 PM
Where the Western Conference stands after the All-Star break
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 22: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets celebrate against the Miami Heat on January 22, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

With roughly a third of the regular season left to play in the NBA, here's where the Western Conference teams stand at the All-Star break.

GOING TO THE LOTTERY

#11 LA Lakers
23-34 WL record (5-5 in last 10 games), 8 games back of #8

Having played three games with the Lakers, LA has gotten the full range of the Isaiah Thomas experience. In his first outing with the club, he was terrific, shooting an efficient 7-of-12 from the field en route to 22 points with six assists. In his next game, he played just five minutes before being ejected for his encounter with Rajon Rondo. In the third game, we saw the worst-case Thomas that helped sink the Cavs - he shot just 3-of-15 for seven points. With Lonzo Ball set to make his return, how Coach Luke Walton divvies up touches between his two guards will definitely be worth watching. There's absolutely no reason they shouldn't try anything and everything, what with their 2018 first rounder going to either the 76ers or the Celtics.  

#12 Memphis Grizzlies
18-38 WL record (1-9 in last 10 games), 12.5 games back of #8

#13 Sacramento Kings
18-39 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 13 games back of #8

#14 Dallas Mavericks
18-40 WL record (2-8 in last 10 games), 13.5 games back of #8

The Mavericks are officially in the tank (and got fined for making it known), but that probably is the least of their worries now.

#15 Phoenix Suns
18-41 WL record (1-9 in last 10 games), 14 games back of #8

ON THE CUSP OF THE PLAYOFFS

#10 Utah Jazz
30-28 WL record (10-0 in last 10 games), 1.5 games back of #8

The Jazz have actually won 11 straight games, best in the NBA right now, and they've notched some impressive victories in that stretch, including wins over the Spurs, Warriors, and Raptors.

While it's easy to just point to Donovan Mitchell as the reason for their success, don't overlook Ricky Rubio (prior to his injury), shooting 53.8 percent from the field, and 57.1 percent on triples. Also, Jae Crowder, who came over in the Cleveland trade, has embraced his new squad, going from 8.6 points (32.8% 3FG) and 3.3 rebounds in The Land, to 14.7 points (37.5% 3FG) and 5.0 rebounds in Salt Lake.

#9 LA Clippers
30-26 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 0.5 games back of #8
 
NO ROOM FOR ERROR

#8 New Orleans Pelicans
31-26 WL record (5-5 in last 10 games), 0.5 game cushion over #9

While it didn't happen at the deadline, the Pelicans did swing a trade for Nikola Mirotic, to bolster their shooting. His six games with the team so far have been a mixed bag though. His scoring and his number of shots per game are slightly down (per 36 minutes), and his three-point percentage is somehow the lowest of his NBA career to date. On the flipside, he is putting up career-best numbers in rebounds, steals and blocks. One possible reason for this shift? He's also playing a career-high 34 minutes an outing, which really speaks to a lack of depth on the Pelicans.

#7 Portland Trail BLazers
32-26 WL record (6-4 in last 10 games), 1 game cushion over #9

#6 Denver Nuggets
32-26 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 1 game cushion over #9

Paul Millsap won't be back until the middle of March, as he recovers from a torn wrist ligament, but how his return will affect the team is up for debate. Denver is rocking right now, with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Nikola Jokic all in a groove. Could Coach Mike Malone be tempted to try Millsap in a sixth-man role, absorbing playing time and shots from the likes of Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler, and Mason Plumlee instead?

#5 Oklahoma City Thunder
33-26 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 1.5 game cushion over #9

Boy are the Thunder extremely streaky. They're 4-6 in their last 10 games, but one of those was a win at Golden State. Prior to that, they had won eight in a row, with victories over Cleveland, Washington, and Philadelphia. That run came after a three-game losing streak (where they fell to last-place Phoenix, mind you), and on the heels of a December stretch where they lost just five games.

One interesting stat to note though? In February, Paul George's average shot attempts jumped up to 20.9 per game, his most with OKC. In contrast, Carmelo Anthony's went down to 14.2, while Russell Westbrook's dipped to 20.5, both lows for this season. Some of that was PG stepping up his game when that duo was temporarily sidelined, but the former Pacer got even more accurate with all those attempts, hitting a whopping 49.7 percent from the field.

#4 Minnesota Timberwolves
36-25 WL record (5-5 in last 10 games), 3.5 game cushion over #9

#3 San Antonio Spurs
35-24 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 3.5 game cushion over #9

There's genuine concern in San Antonio that the Spurs won't be able to reach 50 games, snapping a run that stretches all the way back to the 1996-97 season (in the 98-99 lockout-shortened season, they went 37-13, the equivalent of a 60-win campaign in an 82-game season).

The Spurs have 23 remaining games to win 13, which could be a challange, when you consider their many injuries, coupled with Coach Popovich's desire to rest his veterans. In addition, most number-crunchers have the Spurs playing the most difficult remaining schedule of all the NBA teams. Now toss in the fact that Kawhi Leonard might not return this season, and those that Pound the Rock have reason to worry.

(Cue the Spurs going on one of those runs that make hoops pundits look stupid)

AHEAD OF THE REST

#2 Golden State Warriors
44-14 WL record (6-4 in last 10 games), 0.5 games back of #1

Much of the analysis for the Warriors' swoon has been about fatigue - multiple Finals trips, plus more games before the All-Star break this year, caused the team to limp into the mid-season classic. And you just know something's up when Coach Kerr has to resort to letting his players coach themselves to get them motivated.

Luckily for the defending champs and their fans, the Warriors are projected to have the third-easiest remaining schedule, with multiple games against bottom-feeders Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks. Plus, they're getting closer to the return of rookie big man Jordan Bell, who reliably gives them a burst of energy when he plays.

#1 Houston Rockets
44-13 WL record (10-0 in last 10 games)

Perhaps the most impressive part about the Rockets having the best record in the NBA is the fact that they were able to do so, despite a plethora of injuries, including to their two biggest stars, Chris Paul and James Harden. In addition to them, key role players like Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Clint Capela have all missed at least five outings. That's why the team picking up Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright following buyouts is potentially huge.

Coach D'Antoni has always use short line-ups, usually no more than eight-men strong, wringing lots of minutes from his stars. However, this approach last season saw James Harden exhausted come the Playoffs. Getting Chris Paul was a step in the right direction, giving The Beard an additional playmaker to run the offense. Adding more veterans who can contribute is another. If the Rockets are going to surprise everyone and come out of the West, they'll need fresh legs to go toe-to-toe against their foes.

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