It disappoints me greatly to say that the Timberwolves (38-38) have missed the playoffs again. After nine straight years in the NBA lottery, they were a lot better this year but not close to being good enough. The Western Conference again is loaded with deep-talented teams even though the Eastern Conference has delivered the NBA Champion back to back with the Miami Heat the last two years.
I believe the NBA Champion in 2014, however, will come out of the rugged Western Conference. They have five teams with 50 wins or more. The first team to win 40 games this year was Oklahoma City.
The Thunder have the NBA’s second-best record (55-21), are 4-0 vs. the San Antonio Spurs, and were in the Finals two years ago. I believe superstar Kevin Durant will snatch the league’s MVP trophy away from LeBron James.
Durant, now with a healthy Russell Westbrook back, passed the great Michael Jordan’s streak of 40 straight games of scoring 25+ points or more and leads the league in scoring again with 32.1 per game. That’s almost five points more than number-two New York’s Carmelo Anthony at 27.5.
The Spurs, a tough-luck seventh game loser to Miami in the Finals last year, are back with the league’s best record (60-17) and will have the huge home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They reeled off 19 straight wins, the fourth-longest streak in NBA history, for the league’s best coach, Gregg Popovich. The Spurs lead the NBA in point differential (8.5) and have the best road record (29-9).
Among the four teams in history that have had longer win streaks are the 1971-72 Lakers, the 1998 Bulls, and the 2013 Heat. The Spurs were 16-0 in March, and if they win their last five games they can match the 2013 Heat’s 30-2 record after the All-Star break. Last year, that more than anything was why Miami prevailed over Indiana and San Antonio.
The Los Angeles Clippers will be a tough out. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are a dynamic threesome. They have the league’s third-best record at 55-23. Coach Doc Rivers in year one has done a great job; he is one of four active coaches to win a championship. And they know from looking up at the Lakers for decades that unless you win a championship, you have done nothing in Los Angeles.
Paul leads the league in assists and steals. Jordan leads the NBA in rebounding and field goal percentage. Griffin averages 24.0 and 10 rebounds.
Houston with Dwight Howard and James Harden, the league’s fifth-best scorer, and coached by Kevin McHale are very good also and can play with anyone. The Heat are still champs and fight to three-peat. Indiana is good but suddenly the last three weeks look vulnerable.
Yes, the West, I feel, will deliver the next champion. And one of those five teams — I’m just saying watch out.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to [email protected], or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.