We haven’t glanced upon the southwest division in a while but not all that much has changed. The San Antonio Spurs continue to put their front foot forward as Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson lead the way. The Dallas Mavericks slipped a little after losing Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler to injuries allowing other teams in the west to catch up. Meanwhile the New Orleans Hornets went on a 10 game win streak but recently lost 3 of their past 4. The Memphis Grizzlies are biting at the heels to get into that 8th position as they ride a four game win streak. Houston though continues to plod along remaining below the .500 mark.
So let’s head over the jump to give out some awards and glance on each teams situation.
San Antonio Spurs
- MVP: Manu Ginobili
It’s hard to look past Manu Ginobili as the Spurs leading man. His scoring ability still amazes most as his craftiness remains in tact. It shows with behind the back layups, no-look passes and overall ability to maneuver at will against his opponent (lame pun, I know). The thing that impresses me most about it though is that he’s been doing this for years relatively with little attention. Even when the Spurs won their championships Ginobili received little acclaim, but for the first time as a Spur he’s finally acting as the lead role and is taking to it nicely. I don’t hate the Spurs, but I sure as heck envy their ability to continue to remain relevant (to the point it almost pisses you off).
- Unheralded Hero: Gary Neal
His name doesn’t come up anywhere outside of the San Antonio region and for good reason. Neal played for several years in Europe before being signed by the Spurs to a three-year contract. To many this was an eye-brow raiser, but none the less you had to trust the Spurs scouts, notorious for turning little names into big ones. In turn Gary has been a very effective player off the bench averaging 8.5 points per game and shooting 39 percent from three. He’s done his job to perfection something the Hornets bench should take notes on
- Western Conference Finish: 1st
They have to finish first, right? I mean they are 6 and a half games ahead of the second placed Lakers, their core remains and all signs point to the powerhouse defense that has been present for all of Greg Popovich’s days. I don’t think there’s to much slowing down this club, they do have weaknesses, but they are a team that is experienced enough to take it one game at a time and maintain that gap between first and second
- MVP: Dirk Nowitzki
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the German sharpshooter is the Mavericks most valuable asset. If you needed any proof of this just look at what happened when he missed 6 games, there were, you guessed it, 6 losses. He has now returned and as such Dallas has gone on a 6 game win streak. Odd? No. Dirk Nowitzki, when on, is pretty much unguardable. His height, strength, shooting and ball handling skills make him a terror for any forward or center to guard. Most casual NBA fans dismiss the Mavericks and their playoff chances because over the years they have failed time and time again (the Warriors series sticks out in everyone’s mind). I do think though, that now they could be poised to make a run. I know that Dirk’s leadership qualities have improved over time and now with the experience and a rejuvenated Tyson Chandler they could make a run at a title.
- Unheralded Hero: Tyson Chandler
Speaking of Chandler here he is as the Mavericks unheralded hero. I know it’s not the biggest “no-name” but I do believe that Tyson gets less credit than he deserves. While he may not be averaging the most points, Chandler has invigorated a once stagnate career. He’s picked things up on defense considerably and is no longer the liability he once was on offense. I don’t think the Mavericks even touch the 3rd seed without Chandler’s development and I’m not just saying this because he is a former Hornet.
- Western Conference Finish: 3rd
I think the Mavericks will finish out the season strong and secure a top three place. I could even see them having a run at the Lakers and that two spot, but who knows.
New Orleans Hornets
- MVP: Chris Paul
Okay so that was a tough decision. Choosing Chris Paul was tough, and it’s strange that it took me 20 minutes to finally decide that he was our MVP. I mean it does seem very obvious to choose him. He’s the face of the franchise, a four-time All Star and leads the league in steals. It makes sense. But you have to take note of Emeka Okafor’s performance and his value to the team. The pivot position (as I call it) is so vital to every NBA team. It changes the dynamics of the game so drastically from a “street-ball game” to the traditional one where size can conquer speed. Okafor has been outstanding this year defensively and offensively he’s adding value getting shots around the basket (which are better, higher percentage shots). I also considered David West because he is having, what I consider, his most balanced season. Not only is he carrying the team offensively, but defensively he’s stepped things up. All things considered though, I had to go with Paul because if you take him off the team these Hornets will not win a basketball game. Simply put, he adds the most value to the team.
- Unheralded Hero: Trevor Ariza
I know what you are all thinking, “You put Trevor here after all the crappy shots he’s taken (and will take for the future tense)?” To answer, yes, despite his somewhat inconsistent offense Ariza’s defensive abilities has transformed the team into the juggernaut they are today. We talked briefly about Okafor’s resurgence, well it’s thanks to Ariza that allows the big-man to control the paint with authority.
- Western Conference Finish: 6th
I couldn’t go any higher than this because the recent slew of injuries has me concerned. Finishing the long 82 game season is tough, it’s why no one really pays attention till January. The Hornets have in recent times struggled to finish out the season. Injuries, poor coaching, lack of role players, all the excuses are there. However if this team is to jump the likes of Oklahoma City, Dallas and even the Lakers they are going to have to put more than one 10 game win streak together.
- MVP: Zach Randolph
For all the flash of Rudy Gay it is Zach Randolph that presents the most value to the Memphis Grizzlies this season. Even though I haven’t watched too many games of the Grizzlies this year, the ones I have Z-Bo (as he’s affectionately known) has dominated. Not only that but he’s consistently put up big numbers (20/13). I feel like this one should go to Gay, but Zach’s been playing some of his best basketball this season.
- Unheralded Hero: Mike Conley
It was funny when the owner of the Grizzlies told reporters that he didn’t know what the CBA contained and that he’s never read it. It was even funnier when Memphis then played their hand and re-signed most of their core players including Conley. It seemed a surprise that a team would commit long term to a player that has always been known as inconsistent and defensively weak. This season however Mike Conley has also played his hand and it doing it consistently. He’s also showed up defensively (1.66 steals a game T-12th in league) and is playing more confident basketball. It isn’t quite the laughing matter anymore.
- Western Conference Finish: 8th
Have to give it to Memphis, they are playing really well as of late and are making a bigtime run at the 8th seed. I believe they will get it because I view them as a talented, quietly deep team. They have scorers and players who they can lean on in multiple situations. The situation for them has always been defense (or lack there of) but I feel if they can continue to play well on the road they will steal the final playoff spot from Portland (a team I used to highly rate).
MVP: Kevin Martin
If there’s one thing that Kevin Martin does well it’s scoring. He does it efficiently and mostly through his weird, yet effective jump-shot. That efficiency may not equate to wins (where has the Rockets defense gone?) but it still gives nightmares to opposing teams. Could you imagine if he was on the Hornets instead of Belinelli. Good Lord…
- Unheralded Hero: Kyle Lowry
I was tempted to put Lowry as the MVP for the Rockets (but you have to give it up for KM) instead though he’s my underrated player for the Rockets. K-Lo has been playing decent basketball and he’s an extremely good defender. His talents seem misplaced on a team like Houston so you can hope one day he can move to a better team.
- Western Conference Finish: 12th
I think the Rockets slide down a spot as Golden State and Los Angeles (Clippers) can catch them even if it’s quite pointless.
Even if divisions mean almost nothing in basketball, this one is by far and away the best. There are four playoff teams and one very dangerous offensive one. The Spurs are looking like title contenders, the Mavericks are putting their best foot forward, the Hornets are showing up everyone, the Grizzlies are streaking a little and the Rockets are retooling. It’s a division full of talent, one that has the makings of an exciting NBA playoffs.
Tags: Chris Paul Dallas Mavericks David West Dirk Nowitzki Gary Neal Houston Rockets Kevin Martin Kyle Lowry Manu Ginobili Memphis Grizzlies Mike Conley New Orleans Hornets San Antonio Spurs Trevor Ariza Tyson Chandler Zach Randolph