For much of the 2014-15 season, the NBA world’s attention was on the historically good, extremely tight Western Conference.
While the Eastern Conference has been relatively weak outside of a few teams, the West had at least 10 playoff-worthy teams, with no clear-cut favourite.
For the first five months of the season, the Western Conference playoffs were thought to be crapshoot — nearly any team could come out of it and we wouldn’t be surprised.
Since the All-Star break, however, a bunch of teams have fallen off due to injuries, bad trades, or bad luck.
Here’s a look at the standings as of Thursday morning:
- Golden State Warriors, 58-13
- Memphis Grizzlies, 50-22 (8.5 games back)
- Houston Rockets, 48-23 (10 games back)
- Portland Trail Blazers, 45-25 (12.5 games back)
- L.A. Clippers, 47-25 (11.5 games back)
- San Antonio Spurs, 45-26 (13 games back)
- Dallas Mavericks, 45-27 (13.5 games back)
- Oklahoma City Thunder, 41-31 (17.5 games back)
- Phoenix Suns, 38-34 (20.5 games back)
- New Orleans Pelicans, 37-34 (21 games back)
The Warriors have remained atop the conference for nearly the whole season, and with three weeks left in the season, their 8.5-game lead is essentially insurmountable.
In the last month, a series of events have weakened the conference considerably. The Pelicans, Suns, Thunder, Mavericks, Blazers, and Grizzlies have all taken steps back. Look what happened over the course of a month:
- February 19 (the trade deadline): The Phoenix Suns were heavily involved in this year’s hectic trade deadline, trading point guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas to the Heat and Celtics, respectively. While they got Brandon Knight back in return, the move signalled they’re ok with missing the playoffs in order to continue their rebuild.
- February 22: Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant underwent a second procedure on his foot, keeping him out for several weeks.
- February 25: Rajon Rondo and Dallas Mavericks Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle got into a shouting match, and Rondo was benched for the remainder of the game. They reportedly fought again after the game, and the team suspended him for the next game. The Mavs are just 6-7 since the blowup, and only 26-19 since the Rondo trade — a win percentage that would barely have them in the playoffs at all if it were sustained for a whole season.
- March 2: Jamal Crawford left a L.A. Clippers game early because of a bruised right calf and hasn’t played since. The Clippers are unsure when/if he’ll return this season, removing the most productive member of an extremely weak bench.
- March 6: Wes Matthews of the Portland Trail Blazers ruptured his Achilles in a game and is out for the season. Matthews is the Blazers’ third leading scorer, their best perimeter defender, and according to Jason Quick of the Oregonian, the soul of the team. The Blazers have gone 4-6 in his absence.
- March 17: The Thunder announced Serge Ibaka is out four to six weeks after undergoing knee surgery. Since Ibaka’s injury, the Thunder have given up 109 points per game to opponents.
- March 20: Thunder GM Sam Presti said Kevin Durant is out indefinitely because of foot soreness.
Other teams have slowly crashed back to earth throughout the year, raising questions about their title legitimacy.
The Houston Rockets’ injury woes have kept them from reaching their ceiling. Dwight Howard returned to the lineup Wednesday night for the first time since late January, but starting point guard Patrick Beverley is out with a hand injury that may require surgery and keep him out for the remainder of the season. Power forward Terrence Jones has only played 25 games this season and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
The New Orleans Pelicans have lost four games in a row, dropping to 10th in the West, and their 12-10 record against sub.-500 teams since January 1st will likely be the reason they don’t make the playoffs.
The Memphis Grizzlies are considered the Warriors’ top competition, but they haven’t had a spectacular second half of the season. They’re just 8-6 in March, and they have some roster construction issues. Their second-most played lineup — Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol — has a negative-3.3 net rating in 340 minutes played, meaning their starting lineup for most of 2015 has been outscored.
Nobody rules out the Spurs because of their decade-long consistency, but there are some signs pointing to their decline this season. Tony Parker is having his worst season in over a decade, and young, important players like Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Patty Mills have battled injuries all year.
The Warriors, meanwhile, remain solid. They have the league’s best offence and defence, the best record, and they have been relatively healthy throughout the season.
There are teams that can still challenge the Warriors, but the conference as a whole looks weaker than it did one month ago. Several teams’ title chances have been decimated by injuries, and the remaining teams look like they’re on a lower tier than the Warriors.
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