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.
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.
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
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.