Can the Spurs continue their impressive start to the season?
Prior to the new NBA season getting under-way last month, there were numerous questions that fans were eagerly awaiting the answers to.
Would the Miami Heat ‘three-peat’, or could the Indiana Pacers topple them? How would Derrick Rose’s return affect the landscape in the Eastern Conference? Could the San Antonio Spurs bounce back from last year’s disappointment?
In the first part of their series, and with ten games gone in the season thus far, fanatix NBA experts Sumeet Paul and Scott Hazlewood discuss who are the genuine contenders from the Western Conference.
Sumeet Paul: We’re now roughly 10 games deep into the season and the San Antonio Spurs have made the early running with a 9-1 record. Are they the favourites to come out of the West given their added motivation of losing last season?
Scott Hazlewood: I think they are at this stage. I backed them to finish on top in the West and they are again proving how good teams operate by being consistent. Other teams like the Clippers and the Warriors who were talked about as being big movers have started slowly, but there is a long way to go yet. But the Spurs are the early front-runners.
SP: With Russell Westbrook returning to fitness and getting back out on the court with Kevin Durant though, have the Oklahoma City Thunder got the necessary pieces to get back to the NBA Finals this year?
SH: I’ll declare off the bat that the Thunder are my team. In saying that I think they will still struggle a fraction. I look at them in almost the same way I am looking at Chicago in the East. They have the core of the same side that has done so well in the past 2-3, but the role players are not quite the same.
Losing James Harden hurt of course, but look at what Kevin Martin has done with the Timberwolves this season. Oklahoma losing that other wing shooter has hurt them. But having Westbrook back much earlier and young players like Reggie Jackson and centre Steve Adams showing good signs, I think they will still be a top three side in the West.
SP: So the Spurs and Thunder to one side, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets were highly fancied this season too. Given the talent that the likes of Golden State and Minnesota possess, who will be the main threats moving forward?
SH: Going forward I think there are still some teams out West that have struggled to wake up early. I still think the New Orleans Pelicans will be battling for a 6-8 seed. Anthony Davis has had a monster season to date, putting up insane numbers across all categories. Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday are all classy guards, they have all of the pieces they just need to put it together.
The other big surprise is the Portland Trail Blazers at 8-2 early in the year. Damian Lillard is one of the best point guards in the league and DeMarcus Aldridge is All-Star quality, but I think they will level out as the year goes on. Golden State have played well but are capable of even more once they get their rotations down and the Timberwolves, finally, are fit and firing and Kevin Love should come into MVP consideration if he keeps playing the way he has been.
SP: And the Lakers?
SH: Two words, four syllables – Kobe Bryant. The Lakers need their superstar back desperately as they have struggled for consistency greatly. While they have managed to pull out five wins out their first 12, more than some would have expected, the outlook is not good.
Steve Nash is a shadow of the two-time MVP from a few years ago. And really, as harsh as it is to say about one of the great point guards of the game, he needs to retire now before he plays 10 games this season. That way LA can save a heap of money next season that would be better served signing free agents, because like it or not, the Lakers are heading towards either middle of the table, or a complete rebuild.