We already took a look at the 2015-16 NBA season standings for the Eastern Conference, but it’s now time to look toward the Western Conference as we continue our assessment of the current season. Some teams are doing a pretty excellent job at climbing through the rankings, but others still have a long way to go. And since our original predictions for the 2015 NBA Draft didn’t quite pan out as expected, we’re more than slightly interested to see how each team is handling the season with their new players.
Below, we’ll cover which teams have the best chances to take control of their division and make it to the 2016 NBA Finals. We’ll also talk a bit about which teams seem as if they haven’t got a chance this year, and which teams are a bit harder to call due to a mixture of elements. The Western Conference is heating up a bit more than the Eastern Conference right now (even if the scoreboards are saying differently in many cases), so there’s definitely a lot to consider.
The 2015-16 NBA season is still far from over, so we’ll definitely be revisiting this issue later in the year. Keep an eye out to see what’s changed as we eagerly look forward to this season’s NBA finals.
The Denver Nuggets aren’t doing too well right now, with a losing 9-14 record that puts them at about the bottom of the Northwest Division. The recently drafted PG Emmanuel Mudiay is doing everything he can to help them deliver, but so far it just hasn’t been enough. He’s going to be missing the next game with a sprained ankle, which might actually be a blessing in disguise. If their most recent game taught us anything, however, it’s that they know how to make a turnaround. After managing to overcome an 18-point trail behind their opponents to net a narrow win in the end, Denver proved that no team is ever down for the count. Things may not look good for the Nuggets this season, but they still have a chance of increasing their standing. It’s also worth noting that SF Danilo Gallinari just had his best game to date, which could be a sign of improvements to come.
Currently tied with the Nuggets at 9-14, the Minnesota Timberwolves were actually the team to give Gallinari such a great game. They did dominate early on, and defense was no small part of that. They’re fortunate enough to have C Kevin Garnett on their side, who has just become the NBA’s all-time leader in defensive rebounds. Players such as C Karl-Anthony Towns and SF Andrew Wiggins have also had their moments, but the T-Wolves are still struggling to establish themselves in a highly competitive conference. With one of the league’s better defenders and two talented offensive players on their side, it’s almost baffling that Minnesota is doing so badly. They need to see some more aggressive play from their men (our faith is primarily in Towns) or else they’ve got little chance of turning things around this season.
The Portland Trail Blazers are third in the Northwest Division and tenth in the Western Conference with a 10-15 record at the time of writing. One of the biggest struggles for the team right now is that they just don’t have a lot of notable talent on their side. They’ve seen some decent offense from PG Damian Lillard, and some admittedly amazing defense from PF Noah Vonleh, but both could still use quite a bit of improvement. And really, the Blazers need to improve as a whole if Portland wants to increase their standings in the 2015-16 NBA season moving forward. They also need to retain their focus, which was a major note in their most recent loss. Similar to the Timberwolves, the Trail Blazers are a team that manages to dominate the floor before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They might get better, but they just as likely might get worse before the 2015-16 NBA season is over.
With a 10-12 record, the Utah Jazz are nearly hard proof that the Northwest Division is the weakest division in the Western Conference. It’s never a good sign when the second-best team in your division is posting a losing record over a quarter of their way into the season, but that’s the exact position that Utah is in right now. After losing 5 of their last 7 games, it appears as if they just don’t have much going in terms of offense. They have been exhibiting some solid defense (mostly from SF Rodney Hood), but it hasn’t been enough to keep them in the lead. There is a slight silver lining, in the sense that rookie PF Trey Lyles has been pushing to make some improvements after feeling the effects of his own shaky performance, but that doesn’t mean the Jazz will be able to increase their standings as the 2015-16 NBA season wears on. All it really means is that one of their players will be slightly more aware of how badly their team is affecting the division’s reputation this year. We have some mild hopes for Utah, but we’re frankly thinking this entire division is sunk.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the only team in the Northwest Division with a winning record, which would be more of an accomplishment if the other teams weren’t playing so poorly. With a current record of 16-8, the Thunder are actually third in the Western Conference, so Oklahoma City might actually have a shot at rising through the rankings as the 2015-16 NBA season continues. It isn’t too surprising that they’re at the top of their division, with players such as PF Kevin Durant and PG Russell Westbrook leading the team. Durant’s been playing especially well in the clutch, which was largely responsible for their most recent win. With Westbrook’s help, he nailed a shot from 17 feet that sent him on a major hot streak to score 29 of his total 31 points in the second half. If Oklahoma City wants a shot at the finals, or at rings for that matter, they better hope Durant keeps in touch with this side of his play throughout the 2015-16 NBA season. He’s a star player, but he often seems to forget it. He needs to keep playing like this if he wants his team to win.
The Los Angeles Lakers are at the very bottom of both the Pacific Division and the Eastern Conference right now, with a 3-21 record as they continue to suffer a six-game losing streak have won only a single game of their last 10 outings. This is the last season for SF Kobe Bryant, who frankly deserves to be going out as badly as he is. Everyone’s been paying him tribute for some reason, because apparently changing jersey numbers was enough to convince people of his innocence. But no matter how you feel about him as a person, his retirement should free up the Lakers to make some improvements next year by opening up about $60 million in salary cap space. That’s great news for next season, but the 2015-16 NBA season is probably pretty much over for them. We’d normally talk about how they could turn things around if they tried hard enough, but it’s hard to see that happening with the performance they’ve been giving us thus far.
At thirteenth in the conference, the Sacramento Kings have got a long way to go. They’ve won their last two games, but neither of those was by a particularly large margin. It’s hard to say what they need to change; they have some talent in C DeMarcus Cousins and PG Rajon Rondo, but neither one has turned this into a winning season for Sacramento. They also have PG Seth Curry, who might be one of the more famous sports siblings around right now but hasn’t necessarily established himself as a key player on the team. And since Rondo was recently suspended, the Kings are going to be down one of their key players for a game when they really need to be making a turnaround. Right now, they’re doing what they can to practice while they take a few days off. But whether or not it will help them raise their 2015-16 NBA season standings is a question that remains to be answered.
Ninth in the conference and third in the division are the Phoenix Suns, with a current record of 11-14 that they just may be able to turn around with enough effort. If there was one play that showed their potential in their most recent game, it was when PF Jon Leuer gave the ball to PG Brandon Knight, all so that Knight could set in motion a double alley-oop completed by Leuer himself. This isn’t exactly a common occurrence, but the play was completed as casually as if they did this every game. It’s incredibly likely that this was just a standout moment from an average team, but it’s also quite possible that this marks the beginning of a turnaround for Phoenix as the Suns try to improve their 2015-16 NBA season standings.
The Los Angeles Clippers are doing much better than the Suns, at fourth in the Western Conference with a 14-10 record. They may not be winning by much, but they’ve still been able to hold a winning record through the efforts of key players such as C DeAndre Jordan and PF Blake Griffin. That said, the former didn’t really start the season on a strong note. It’s only been since Jordan experienced a resurgence of energy that the Clippers have begun to do well. And it seems to be the Clippers that have inspired Jordan rather than the other way around, although it’s frankly hard to tell since both the team and the player improved at virtually the exact same time. Even so, the team seems to be set for massive improvements, with little sign of stopping any time soon. It’s hard to say whether or not this will be their season, but they should at least be fun to watch.
The Golden State Warriors are at the top of the NBA as a whole right now, giving the Pacific Division the distinction of housing both the best and worst teams in the Western Conference. The Warriors are currently 24-1, having just lost their first game of the season. Losing hold over their 28-game winning streak (if you factor in last season) might shake their confidence a bit, but the Warriors still have a lot going for them. A good deal of it comes down to the trio of PG Stephen Curry, SG Klay Thompson, and C Draymond Green. Then you add SFs Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes, and you have one of the strongest teams in the league. The strongest team, going solely on their record. Either way, the fact of the matter is that this team has looked virtually unstoppable up until their most recent game. One loss hardly spells doom for a team that knows the value of teamwork and can often pull it together for big wins when they need them most. Ask us, and this not a team that’s struggling a quarter into the 2015-16 NBA season. They just need to recharge a bit, and they’ll likely do it with the same grace and dignity we’ve come to expect.
The New Orleans Pelicans are fourteenth in the conference right now, barely saved from last place with a 6-17 record as they struggle to stay alive past the first quarter of the 2015-16 NBA season. They have a losing record at home, but their record on the road is abysmal with only 1 win out of 12 away games. Their most recent game saw some aggressive offense by SG Eric Gordon, but it just wasn’t enough. The Pelicans’ inability to perform on the road is a major concern, since New Orleans is gearing up to embark on a five-day road trip that may worsen their record if they can’t turn things around. But much like the Lakers, we’re thinking their season might be over anyway.
Currently boasting a tied 12-12 record, the Houston Rockets might be living proof that the Southwest Division is the strongest in the Western Conference. They might not host the team with the greatest chances of winning the championship this year, but they’re the only division with more winning records than losing ones. It’s easy to credit a great deal of Houston’s performance to players like SG James Harden and C Dwight Howard, especially with Harden having scored 30 points in their most recent game (and 42 in the one before that) while Howard continues to deliver consistently. But some credit also has to go to C Clint Capela and SF Marcus Thornton, each of which has been an unexpected hidden weapon this season. We’d normally expect the Rockets to have a much stronger record by this point in the season, but remember that the 2015-16 NBA season is far from over. There’s still a good chance that they can improve their standing if they work hard enough at doing so. They’ve got the talent, they just need to make a stronger push.
The Memphis Grizzlies are 13-12, doing just slightly better than the Rockets at third place in the Southwest Division and sixth place in the Western Conference. Much like the Rockets, the Grizzlies are a team that we might have expected to have delivered a much stronger performance by this point in the season, and they certainly seem to be trying. But as close as their most recent loss may have been, they’ve given up quite a few losses with some pretty big margins, and it seems as if they’re barely even performing better at home than on the road. We haven’t seen much from C Marc Gasol or PF Matt Barnes to give us much hope of a turnaround. Ditto SF Vince Carter. As the third-worst scoring team in the league, it’s hard to see the Grizzlies making much of an improvement unless they get some time off to practice. And even a few days off probably won’t do much good. This just isn’t a good year for Memphis, and we don’t anticipate them turning it around any time soon.
The Dallas Mavericks are only doing slightly better than the Rockets and the Grizzlies, with a 13-11 record that places them fifth in the Eastern Conference. The brightest spot on the team right now is probably C Dirk Nowitzki, who some are pegging for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game. It would be Nowitzki’s fourteenth All-Star appearance, but this isn’t necessarily the likeliest of years for him to make it. Not because he isn’t doing well, but because his team is just mediocre right now. The Southwest Division may look like the strongest at a glance, but the fact that the Mavs are second place almost makes us rethink that a bit. This just isn’t a good year for either conference, and the Western Conference is struggling to deal with mediocrity while appearing to put forward a strong performance. Dallas, Houston and Memphis are all a big part of that. For the Mavericks’ part, they need to improve their game at home. They’re working on that issue right now, as well they should. If they can’t get it together on their own court, it’ll be hard to put much faith in them to lead the division this season.
The San Antonio Spurs are indisputably the best team in the Southwest Division right now, with a 20-5 record that puts them only just behind the Warriors to become the top team in the NBA. Their key players at the moment are Cs LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan, with SG Manu Ginobili and PG Tony Parker doing a pretty strong job as well. You won’t necessarily hear the Spurs mentioned in the news too frequently, but they like to be under the radar. And so far, it’s working for them. There’s really not much to say about San Antonio other than that they really have a strong chance at pulling ahead before the 2015-16 NBA season is over. If the Warriors begin to fall and the Spurs maintain their consistency, they could even finish the year as champions of the NBA.
Western Conference Predictions
A lot of these teams are close, with only a couple of real leaders in the Western Conference right now. So unless said leaders stay on top, it may be difficult to tell who exactly will advance to the playoffs at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season. Only eight will get there, and the bottom six spots are currently the hardest to guess. Still, we can make a few light predictions.
The current standings would pit the Golden State Warriors against the Utah Jazz, the San Antonio Spurs against the Houston Rockets, the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Los Angeles Clippers against the Dallas Mavericks.
Our projections would put the Golden State Warriors against the Phoenix Suns, the San Antonio Spurs against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Dallas Mavericks against the Houston Rockets.
As you can see, there aren’t too many huge changes in the current standings and our own projections, largely due to the major gap in talent between the top teams and the bottom teams in the conference. You might notice that the only teams from the Northwest Division mentioned above are the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz, the latter of which we expect to fall behind long before the season is over. The Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Portland Trail Blazers are not receiving much consideration from us at the moment. We might have a bit of faith in the Thunder, especially if their current 5-game winning streak continues. But whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
Every team in the Pacific Division except for the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers has received a mention in our projection just above, but that doesn’t mean they stand on equal footing. The Phoenix Suns may improve just enough to make the playoffs at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season, but it’s hard to say. The Los Angeles Clippers will probably fall a bit, but they don’t have much going for them either way. Frankly, the only team in this division with much of a shot are the Golden State Warriors. They may have lost their winning streak to a team with a losing record, but they’ve been on fire for some time. One loss won’t change that.
The only team in the Southwest Division that isn’t in our projections is the New Orleans Pelicans, as they have pretty much no chance whatsoever. The Houston Rockets might raise in the rankings a bit, while the Memphis Grizzlies may fall. Then again, it looks as if it could go either way for both teams right now. Neither one of them has been particularly consistent, making them hard to call. We do picture the Dallas Mavericks improving, but it will take a lot of effort for them to catch up with the San Antonio Spurs. As far as the Spurs are concerned, there’s actually a possibility that they may overtake the Warriors as NBA leaders if they keep performing the way they have been.
With that said, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are the likeliest candidates to win the Western Conference for the 2015-16 NBA season. Once again, we’ll be looking at these teams again later in the season to see how they have progressed. We’ll be interested to see what’s changed and what hasn’t as we draw closer to the 2016 NBA Finals.