Way Out West- 3.15.18

Rocking Rockets

In Houston, it’s all systems go, and they are all-in to hold the number one seed and home field
advantage through the playoffs. They’ve won nine of their last ten games, including wins over
the second place team in the East, Boston, plus the playoff bound Thunder, Timberwolves and
Jazz. Their only loss in the last two weeks was against a Raptors team that’s starting to run
away with the Eastern Conference. James Harden is looking to bolster his MVP case, but I
think that more importantly, these Rockets smell blood in the water out West. Don’t be
surprised to see them looking to the playoffs and resting players accordingly. This team was
built to do only one thing; beat the Warriors. If they secure the number one seed, they’ll like
their odds with four home games in the West Finals if it comes to that. If both teams are at full
strength, it’s still advantage Golden State. But if the Warriors are down one of their stars and
need to win on the road, it could be too much to overcome.

Weary Warriors

When Steph Curry tweaked his ankle again, Warriors fans gritted their teeth and acknowledged
that the Rockets might keep that number one seed in the Western Conference. Golden State
has played well in Curry’s absence, but averages almost seven points fewer per game without
him. Put simply, Curry’s presence is what makes the Warriors seem untouchable. The aura of
invincibility dissipates like the Bay Area fog when he rides the pine. The Warriors aren’t taking
any chances, resting Curry until March 20 th , then reevaluating the situation. My guess is that
unless they have the Rockets back in their crosshairs, the Warriors will give that ankle a few
extra games to rest and rehab. In the playoffs, a gimpy Curry could mean trouble.
More troubling than Curry’s gimpy ankle, however, is the injury to Klay Thompson’s shooting
thumb. The fracture will take upwards of two weeks to heal, and who knows how long it will
take to rebuild his shot after that. Thompson might well be the most underrated star in the NBA, seeing as how he would be the best long-range shooter on almost every other team in the NBA, and his contributions on defense can’t be overlooked either. Add in the lingering soreness of spark plug Draymond Green’s shoulder, plus Kevin Durant being on the injury report with sore ribs, and this team is in dire need of a few days off. While the Warriors aren’t in any danger of losing the number two seed, missing two of their big four for several weeks is likely to wear down the remainder of the roster at a time when rest and recovery is a priority for teams headed into the playoffs. If any of these injuries continues to linger, it could make the Warriors something they haven’t been in years: vulnerable. Lest anyone overreact, the Warriors are 8-2 over their last ten games. So just relax.

Blazing New Trails

Want to know who’s looking not good, but great heading down the stretch? The Blazers.
They’ve won ten straight, by an average of ten points each, including two wins over Warriors,
plus the Thunder, T-Wolves, and the Jazz. That’s a team that’s hitting on all cylinders and
knows what its potential is. They aren’t scared of anyone in the Association. Damian Lillard is a legit superstar in the making, and while he’s been under the radar playing up in Portland, I think that time is drawing to a close. While they’re too far back to challenge Golden State, or Houston at this point, they’re holding an edge over the Thunder for the three seed, and I don’t see the falling any further than fourth in any event (save an injury to Lillard, which would render them largely irrelevant).

Triple-Double- Trouble

Nipping at the Trailblazers heels are the Thunder, who have started to come back together at
the right time. Russel Westbrook recorded his one hundredth career triple-double on Tuesday
in Atlanta, securing the win and helping secure his spot in the record books. Westbrook is just
the fourth player in history to record over one hundred triple-doubles. He trails only Oscar
Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138) and Jason Kidd (107) all-time. Here’s the kicker.
Westbrook has only played a total of seven-hundred-thirty-six games thus far in his career.
Since Russell Westbrook entered the league, guess who has the second most? You’re right.
It’s LeBron. How many, you ask? Fifty-two. The greatest physical specimen to ever play in the
NBA has recorded just over half as many as Russ since he entered the league. Westbrook will
surely surpass Kidd, and possibly Magic before next season is over. The only question that
remains is whether he can maintain the torrid pace and catch Robertson to become the NBA’s
all-time triple-double king. He’s already got twenty-one this season, so four more years in the
league could be enough. It’s crazy, and I just don’t comprehend how a point guard can rebound
as much as he does. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Sputtering Spurs

It’s not a pretty scene in San Antonio. Without their perennial All-Star Kawhi Leonard, San
Antonio has slid precipitously, right out of playoff position, dropping to ninth in the West.
They’ve won only three of their last ten games and the end is probably nigh. Even with the
return of Kawhi Leonard looming on the horizon, it’s probably curtains for this team as it’s
constructed. Apparently, despite being reportedly close to return, teammate Tony Parker has
indicated that Leonard isn’t even practicing with the team yet. Even if they were to sneak into
the eighth, or the seventh seed, they would likely be swept out by the Rockets, or Warriors. As
much as Popovich has been a steadying influence on the team-first Spurs, who value system
over stars, even he seems to be at a loss. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spurs blow up this
roster and rebuild around Leonard in the offseason, no matter what happens over the next few
weeks.

Image source: USA Today

Tom Capo

 

Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.

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