Column: The Feared, Fraud and Fallen: NBA Western Conference
The San Antonio Spurs are the most feared team in the Western Conference with a 7-1 record through the first two weeks of the NBA season. Every team in the league knows how dangerous the Spurs are, but they always seem to fly under the radar due to the fact that they play fundamental basketball and are not a flashy squad. The only game the Spurs have lost was during a back-to-back in Portland. The Rose Garden is one of the hardest places to play for road teams due to the intensity and volume of the crowd.
The Spurs have one of the most well-balanced and deep rosters in the NBA. They have five players on their roster that average over 10 points per game and four player on the bench averaging over seven points per game. There is no team in the west that has the depth of San Antonio. The Thunder struggle to find help after Durant, Westbrook and Jackson and the Clippers rely way to too much on Chris Paul despite the acquisition of J.J. Redick.
The biggest fraud and most overrated team in the Western Conference is the Houston Rockets. Although the Rockets have a decent 5-3 record for a team that is trying to develop chemistry between superstars, they have so many holes that need to be filled in order for them to live up to title expectations. The three time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard, has not inspired his team to a become a defensive minded team. Houston is 25th in league in points allowed at 103.6 points per game.
The Rockets are first in rebounding thanks to Howard, but rebounding has more of an individual influence. One of the other biggest reasons that Houston is a fraud is due to the liability of Dwight Howard late in games. Howard essentially ruined his own debut against his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, when he missed seven free-throws in the fourth quarter after D'Antoni elected to use the "Hack a Howard" technique.
What makes it worse, is that the Rockets could have won the game despite Howard's abysmal performance from the charity stripe. All Howard had to do was not call for the ball on the inbounds pass with less than 30 seconds left in the game. That allowed for Pau Gasol to intentionally foul Howard because he had possession of the ball. Those events led to Dwight bricking a free throw, which resulted in a Steve Blake game winning three for the Lakers. If the Rockets want to be a serious contender in the postseason they have to figure out a way to have Howard on the floor without being a liability. This is easier said then done.
The Utah Jazz have fallen way below expectations this year. The Jazz have started the season 0-8 this year. That is the worst start since the Jazz moved to Utah in 1979. The Jazz are in a youth transition similar to the Boston Celtics. They are trying to rebuild with young talent.
The Jazz lost their two best offensive players, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, making them by far the worst offensive team in the NBA, averaging only 86.9 points per game with a shooting percentage of 40.1. Besides being ranked 30th in scoring, the Jazz are also, 20th in rebounds, 29th in assists and 20th in points allowed.
Granted, the Jazz are trying to build a team for the future with young players like Hayward, Favors and Trey Burke, who we have not seen yet due to his broken finger, but these players are not enough unless Burke becomes the next Kyrie Irving. A young team like Utah needs veteran leadership, which was lost when Jefferson followed the money to Charlotte. The Jazz have gone from a consistent 4- or 5-seed in the west the past decade to a league bottom feeder.
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