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Wild, wild West

  • Written by Ed Andaya
  • Published in Opinion
  • Read: 281

Second part

Western Conference

IN  the NBA Western Conference, the  Golden  State Warriors remain as the team to beat with a star-studded line-up that boasts of back-to-back MVP Stephen  Curry (24.8ppg),  four-time scoring  champion Kevin Durant (25.9),  Klay Thompson (21.3),  Draymond  Greene (10.8) and  Zaza Pachulia (5.5).

The Warriors are  32-6 win-loss with 44 games  remaining.
The biggest threats to the Warriors are the San Antonio Spurs, who are sitting  pretty.at 30-7 even  with Tim  Duncan no longer there.
Five players --  Kawhi Leonard (23.9 ppg),  LaMarcus Aldridge (17.8),  Paul Gasol (12.1), Tony Parker  (11.1) and Patty Mills (10.4) -- average double-digit scores in  the Spurs' strong showing.
Leonard’s 23 ppg is also his best in six years with the Spurs since 2011.
A third straight West showdown between the Warriors and the Spurs are  always a great possibility.
Also keeping the imagination of  fans are  Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies and even Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Rockets are riding high on  James Harden (27.9 ppg),  Eric Gordon (17.8) and Trevor Ariza (12.5) for a good start in the season.
The Clippers' chances depend largely on the health of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who have been out of uniform for sometime now.
But as we all know, nothing is assured in sports.
We don't really know which team will complete the playoff cast until the final game of the regular season especually in the wild, wild West.
Of  the seven remaining teams currently out of the  playoff picture, we still think the Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers (yes, you read  it  right) can  squeeze their  way and dislodge  either No. 6 Utah Jazz, No. 7 OKC Thunder or No. 8 Portland Trailblazers in the second  half of the season.
Sacramento Kings
As long as DeMarcus Cousins is  playing like DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings are given a good chance of making it to the postseason.
Cousins, considered by some of  his peers as  “the best big  man in the game”, is second only to Russell Westbrook with 28.5 points a game. He also had 10 rebounds a game.
Rudy Gay (18.7), Darren Collison (12.7), Ty  Lawson (8.5) and Arron Afflalo (7.6) provide a strong supporting cast for the Kings.
Gay, who spent his first seven years in Memphis, contiues to play well for the Kings despite persistent trade rumors before next a month's deadline.
But optimism has its limit, too.
Consistency will ultimately decide the fate of the Kings.
Denver Nuggets
After failing to make it in the past three years, the Nuggets have  made it clear before the start of the 2016-17 season  that making  the playoffs are their ultimate goals
Denver coach Michael Malone have the materials to make it come  true: Danilo Galinari (17.1 ppg), Wilson Chandler (16.2 ppg), Nikola Jokic ( 13.1 ppg),  Emmanuel Mudiay (12.2 ppg) and Kenneth Farried (9.0 ppg).
A source of concern is the health of Galinari, the  6-10 Italian  shooter who was   acquired by the Nuggets in a  three-team trade on February, 2011 with  the New Yrk Knick and the Minnesota  Timberwolves.
After signing a  two-year contarct-extension, he missed the remainder of the 20-15016 seaosn due to an ankle injury.
Denver, however, could make things even exciting.
The  Nuggets are reportedly looking to trade their veterans -- Galinari,   Chandler and Farried  --  for the   opportunity  to get either Cousins  and Paul Milsap
LA Lakers
What can  you expect from the Lakers, who are playing for the first time without NBA superstar Kobe Bryant this season?
Undoubtedly, the Lakers want to compete and challenge the West and new coach Luke Walton hopes to  bring the same winning formula used successfully by  the Warriors.
The Lakers are not too far behind in the playoff hunt and trail the Blazers for No. 8 by only three games with still 41 games remaining,
With  D’ Angelo Russell (15.7 ppg, 4.5 apg, 3.4 rpg) adjusting to his new role as the team’s  undisputed leader and Julius Randle stepping up with 10  double-double and two triple-doubles in 35 starts, the Lakers are in the thick of the fight.
The Lakers are 8-16 when facing teams with a record of .500 or better and 5-0 when  scoring 120 points or more.
Against Miami Heat, they set a season-high in points in their 127-100 victory last Jan. 6.
Top reserves Lou Williams (18.1 ppg) and Jordan Clarkson (13.8 ppg) and future superstar Brandon Ingram (7.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg) should  also provide big numbers to  keep the Lakers going.
The  rest of  the West bidders -- Minnesota, New Orleans  Pelicans,  Dallas  Mavericks and Phoenix  Suns --  have their eyes on the  future.

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