Every year it seems that the NBA’s southwest division is the most competitive and always produces playoff contending teams (usually Dallas and San Antonio). The scene of the Mavericks and Spurs leading the way has not changed, but what has is the New Orleans Hornets resurgence to stake their claim over the division.
Most times divisions are meaningless. They only truly hold value in the fact that you play the opponents more and they are in your conference. They have no real bearing on playoff seeding and aren’t significant in comparison to say the NFL.
It’s interesting however to take a look at some of these teams because in most cases they produce the best games as well as the fact we are more familiar with them than say other teams like the New Jersey Nets.
1. San Antonio Spurs (14-2)
Everyone around the NBA world is waiting for the day that the Spurs finally drop off and start their rebuilding phase. The vibe I get is that people are sick of them winning just because of the simple fact that one, they win and two they don’t do it in the most fascinating of ways. You know what though? Who really cares? If I were a Spurs fan I’d love the fact that everyone was waiting on failure when all the team did was pull up win after win.
I don’t like the Spurs as much as the next guy, but I respect the heck out of them. I do so because it’s the same model and type of basketball I want the Hornets to play, but we’ll get to them soon enough.
The great thing about the Spurs is that they are a stellar road team. The reason is because of their chemistry and balance. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili all do a terrific job of complementing each other. Gregg Popovich does his part too coaching a defensive system that maximizes the talent of the role players, it’s something to be envious of.
2. Dallas Mavericks (12-4)
I wrote back a few weeks ago that I saw the Mavericks as a short term solution to a long term goal. They reminded me of the Dallas Cowboys in their model to use stop-gap veterans as viable options for their quest for an NBA championship. No doubt are the Mavericks talented, they are deep and have shown that throughout the regular season.
In the two games against the Hornets the Mavericks shot the lights out. They had 24 points in the paint in each of the games against New Orleans showcasing the fact they are a jumpshooting team.
Defensively they are sound and that’s why people find it difficult to put a peg on the team. The automatic assumption would be if you’re a jumpshooting team you can’t play defense but the Mavericks do exactly the opposite on D.
Once again I respect this team in most part because they have a stellar coaching staff as well as the Spurs. Their game-planning is solid and they do a good job of making sure the players have most variables accounted for on the court.
3. New Orleans Hornets (12-4)
If we look above at everything I said about the Spurs and Mavericks and take that into our assessment of the Hornets we’d find ourselves repeat most of the same things. That’s because the model of this organisation is primarily based on the one in San Antonio.
- Solid coaching with defensive philosophy
- 3 main “go-to-guys”
- Maximisation of role players through philosophy
It’s refreshing to watch a transition period occur in New Orleans and you get the sense there is a purpose and direction. I think though this team still needs to find that one piece to get the consistency down to a fine art. Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor have in their own right been solid at some points in the season. I think that their reliability and consistency to “carry the load” is up for great scrutiny.
For all the “what-if’s” Chris Paul and David West are doing just a bang-on job of getting this team their wins. Both of them are in top form and could easily make the All-Star team. What has been amazing is the improvement of West on the defensive end, he’s been able to limit his opponent (not shutting down) to lower percentage shots. Paul on the other hand must be considered for the MVP title. At times it seems he is utter control of the entire game making things fit his way (though in recent times he’s been downright awful being less aggressive in terms of his scoring). We must credit the Hornets resurgence to CP3.
What should the front-office do? My guess is as good as yours. Getting that 3rd big man is essential to the extended future of the team. It needs to find a way to ensure there is a solid rotation there.
4. Memphis Grizzlies (7-10)
If we thought New Orleans was inconsistent wait till you meet the Memphis Grizzlies. They have been one of, if not the most, inconsistent team in the league. They’ve had some terrific wins, but some hallowing losses. I thought that Memphis could be one of the danger teams heading into this season. They have a solid core of players, potential in their bench, what they’re lacking is a coaching staff that can get them to play better consistent defense.
5. Houston Rockets (5-11)
Never at one point did I buy in to the whole thing of the Rockets being potential “Championship contenders.” They were put on the analyst map thanks in large part to the fine work of Jeff Van Gundy who made the bold prediction they would be facing the Heat in the NBA Finals.
If you had watched the Rockets through the past season you would know they still have quite a bit of holes on their team. While I like Aaron Brooks he’s not really a pure point guard (shoots a lot of three’s) and they don’t possess that balance needed to make a run at the playoffs. Usually the Rockets make their staple with their defense, that has been non-existent so far this year (I think it’s due to Yao Ming).
I think it would be safe to keep the teams where they are for the rest of the year. I think the Mavericks could take the Spurs spot on top and the Grizzlies maybe (if they get their act together defensively) could knock off the Hornets. What the final win totals for the teams are is up to debate. I never like to put any definitive numbers on it but expect the Spurs to make a run at 60, Mavericks just sub 60 the Hornets in the range of 45-55 and the Grizzlies 38-50.