On April 16, 2014, the NBA regular season will come to an end. With the all-star game over, and the trade deadline complete, the next seven weeks will showcase teams battling for playoff positions, and some teams nose-diving for top lottery spots.
As we head into the home stretch of the regular season, here’s what to watch for in the Western Conference.
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1. Will Russell Westbrook help or hinder OKC’s title chances?
One of the main storylines to watch out West is the return of Russell Westbrook. There is no question that OKC is a better team with their all-star point guard. However, without him, the Thunder have climbed to first place behind the MVP play of Kevin Durant. We all know that the Thunder will go as far as Durant will take them, and now the rest of the NBA will watch closely to see if Westbrook can play Robin to Durant’s Batman.
2. Does San Antonio have any gas left in the tank?
I will throw one number at you, 104. This is the total combined age of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. Although this trio has a ton of mileage, they are sitting second in the West and are coming off a trip to the NBA finals last season.
However, their path back to the finals may be a little more difficult this year as their trio is one year older, and the rest of Western Conference has become even stronger. OKC, Portland, Houston, and the Clippers all look to have finals aspirations this season and all have upgraded their talent from a season ago. San Antonio has also struggled this year against the upper echelon teams and everyone will be watching to see if they have one more run left in them.
3. Is Golden State for real?
Coming off a trip to the Western Conference finals last season, and with the acquisition of Andre Iguodala, many thought that Golden State was going to take the next step this year and be atop the West. However, they currently sit only a ½ game above Dallas for the 8th spot, and will be looking to avoid a first round dance with the Thunder. With the rotation of Curry, Lee, Bogut, Iguodala, Barnes, Thompson, and the addition of Steve Blake, the Warriors have the depth and talent to make a deep run in the playoffs. Only time will tell if they can prove that last year’s success was no joke.
4. Can Memphis make a run?
The Grizzlies are one year removed from making the Eastern Conference finals, and have all the pieces to make a playoff push. As long as Gasol and Conley can remain healthy, look for the Grizzlies to sneak into the playoffs at season’s end. Their final two games are against the two teams they are chasing; they play Phoenix on April 14 and Dallas on April 16. In all likelihood, the West standings will be tight come April, and I can guarantee that both these games will determine if Memphis will be playoff bound, or if they will be watching ping pongs balls.
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