The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Western dominance reestablished

By Nate Wilson-Traisman

The last one and a half NBA seasons have seen a rapid resurgence of the perennially inferior Eastern Conference. The East boasts defending champion Boston, and three of the four best records in the NBA belong to Eastern Conference teams, Cleveland, Boston and Orlando, respectively. Although the East still lacks the depth that the Western Conference has, the power dynamic of the NBA has been clearly shifting. Last week brought a sudden change to that shift.The West made a serious statement last week, when the Andrew Bynum-less Lakers followed a road win at Boston – the team that handed them an embarrassing finals defeat last year – with an emphatic victory three days later over LeBron James and Cleveland. Despite the emergence of Cleveland and Orlando as serious finals contenders, the Lakers most recent road trip has at least for the time being swung the power back to the West.

At 41-9, the Lakers hold the NBA’s best record and are playing their best basketball of the season. It seemed that the loss of center Bynum to a torn MCL would be a major setback, but the Laker role players have stepped up their games in his absence. Lamar Odom scored 28 in the win over Cleveland, 15 of which came in the third quarter, and Pau Gasol answered his critics by playing tough against the physical Celtics, scoring 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. With so many good teams, it’s hard to pencil in the Lakers as the favorite to win it all, but if Bynum reaches full strength by the playoffs, they will be the team to beat in the West.

Another Western Conference power playing their best ball of the season is the venerable San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs struggled at the start of the season with the sporadic absences of all-stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginoblii to injuries, but bounced back by going 12-3 in January. San Antonio is also coming off a huge road win in Boston (directly following the Lakers’ win) in which relatively unknown reserve Matt Bonner poured in 23 points. With Parker, Ginoblii and Tim Duncan having won three championships together it would be foolish to overlook the Spurs. Currently the number two seed in the West (34-15), the Spurs will most likely have home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs, barring a conference finals match up with the Lakers. Still, the veteran Spurs know how to win on the road. They’re 16-8 away from San Antonio this year, and rest assured they will be confident regardless of who and where they play in the playoffs. The Spurs are a scary team, and a fourth championship this decade is not out of the question.

While the Lakers and Spurs have dominated the West thus far, a team that has flown under the radar of many is the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets sit atop the Northwest division at 35-17 and have played especially well since shipping Allen Iverson to Detroit for Chauncey Billups. They are 8-2 in their last ten games, and with playoff seasoned Billups, multi-talented Carmelo Anthony and a healthy Kenyon Martin, the Nuggets could, for once, be a serious threat in the playoffs.

Youthful Portland has also exceeded expectations. Brandon Roy (22.4 ppg) has taken the reigns of this team and at 31-19 they appear playoff bound. While the regular season is far from over, Portland is playing some of its best ball (7-3 in last ten games) and with the injury of Chris Paul in New Orleans,and the locker room issues in Houston, a playoff spot is there for the taking. Still, Portland’s 12-14 road record is indicative of their youth and inexperience, something they’ll have to overcome if they want to make an impact in the post-season. Also, Greg Oden needs to learn how to stay in a game for more than 15 minutes before fouling out. While Joel Pryzbilla is having perhaps his best statistical season, the Blazers desperately need Oden’s size in order to compete in the paint with the league’s premier teams.

Lastly, watch out for Phoenix. At 28-22, they have clearly yet to figure it out. Still, Shaq is dominating again and with their core of past and present all-stars, they could surprise some people down the stretch.

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