With the playoffs starting this week, here’s our Best of the West – the conference that has won seven of the last 10 NBA titles.
Lakers: The beasts of the West for the second straight season. This is a huge frontcourt with 7-foot Paul Gasol (19 ppg, 9.5 ppg), 6-10 Lamar Odom (11 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and 7-foot center Andruw Bynum (14 ppg, 8.2 rpg), who just returned from a knee injury. Kobe Bryant (27 ppg) continues to shine as one of the top players in the game.
Blazers: Portland has done a great job stockpiling talent led by 24-year old Brandon Roy, a former Rookie of the Year averaging 23 points per game. The frontcourt is loaded with 6-11, 23-year old LaMarcus Aldridge (18 ppg, 7.5 rpg), 24-year old Travis Outlaw and 21-year old 7-footer Greg Oden. The team’s leading rebounder is the overlooked 29-year old 7-foot-1 Joel Przybilla.
Hornets: At age 23, Chris Paul is the most electrifying guard in the league, with 22.6 points and 11 assists per game. He runs fits around opposing defenses with his quickness and playmaking ability. David West (20 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Tyson Chandler (8 ppg, 8.9 rpg) are rebounding machines in the low post.
Rockets: Houston has a physical, hard working bunch, led by 28-year old 7-foot-6 Yao Ming (19.6 ppg, 10 rpg) in the middle. Veteran Ron Artest and 6-8 Luis Scola (12.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg) are terrific role players. Houston allows 94.5 ppg, sixth best defensively in the league. Houston traded Rafer Alston to Orlando to get Aaron Brooks (11 ppg) more involved, and he’s played well.
Houston is on a 10-5 run under the total approaching the postseason, which is a good time to bring your best defense. On the other hand, the Rockets have a losing road mark.
Nuggets: Denver became so much better when they dumped Allen Iverson and added former local hero Chauncey Billups. They are hot at the right time, riding the hot shooting of Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith. The offense averages over 104 ppg, sixth best in the NBA. But can you advance in the playoffs with a finesse, uptempo offense and little defense?
Spurs: San Antonio knows what it takes to play championship basketball in the postseason, having won titles in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007. Defense is their calling card, allowing 45 percent shooting by opponents and 93.5 ppg, tops in the West. This is a veteran team with defensive stalwarts Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen.