The coming NBA season is shaping to be the most uncertain since, well, the '99 lockout shortened season. In a regular 82 game format, one might be able to point to who the logical contenders are, and to an extent that reasoning needs to be applied to have any hope of accurately predicting which teams have the best shot at the title. However, a number of other factors come into play with the condensed schedule that will work to the detriment of the veteran teams (most of which would have been among the logical contenders) and naturally open things up for the younger teams.
In looking at the Western Conference, things are far from certain as the conference shifts from one generation to the next. Here's how I would've had the West panning out if not for the lockout:
When taking the revised schedule into consideration though, things look a little different:
The condensed schedule does no favours for the old legs out West. The Thunder speak for themselves - the West is theirs to lose. The Mavericks roster is deep enough and durable enough to withstand the demands of 4 games a week, so their standing is largely unaffected. The Lakers, Spurs and Suns have all shown that they are very good teams when their best players are at their best. At the same time, they've clearly struggled when their respective stars are less than 100 percent. Kobe, Manu and Steve Nash are all facing an uphill battle this season, and it wouldn't surprise me to see more than one of them miss at least 20 games, an obstacle that stands in the way of these teams' success. Based on the quality of their frontcourts, the Grizzlies, Blazers and Clippers all figure to be competitive and at least one of them should grab a top four seed - look for the Clippers to surprise a lot of teams with just how good the Griffin/Paul combination will be. The Rockets are a bit of a wild card - it feels like they have the perfect blend of veteran savvy and young legs to sneak into the playoffs and win a game or two.
From the rest of the teams, we can expect some interesting storylines (logjam in Sactown's backcourt, Minny's frontcourt) and big numbers (Eric Gordon, anyone?) but not a whole lot of wins. I expect the Thunder to come out of the West in the playoffs (feels like a cop out) and the #1 pick in next year's draft to land out West.
I'm sure to be way off on quite a few things, as it could easily go the other way and the veteran teams' experience with looking after their bodies could put them in a better position than the young guns who could very well burn themselves out - and honestly, considering my status as a Suns fan, I'd much prefer that.
No matter which way the tables turn this season, one thing's certain: as usual, it's a Great Race out West to the playoffs, with as many as 8 teams are competing for a top 4 seed. I can't wait!