Continuing with our new feature of weekly roundups of each division, we take an inside look at the Pacific Division.
(The Pacific Division has had a fair share of surprises this year.)
For the better part of well, forever, when you hear the word Pacific Division you most likely turn to the Los Angeles Lakers first. This has been the Lakers division to lose since it’s existence in 1970. The Lakers have the most division titles(23) in the Pacific’s history, with 2nd place going to the Suns, who just have six. So through 20 some odd games for each team, it has to be a little surprising that the Lakers don’t find themselves at the top, especially after all the preseason headlines and championship talk that was thrown around. Here is where the standings looked as on Monday night:
|LA Clippers||14||6||.700||–||10-3||4-3||3-1||10-3||102.3||94.5||+7.8||Won 6||6-4|
|Golden State||14||7||.667||½||6-3||8-4||2-2||6-6||99.7||98.7||+1.0||Won 4||8-2|
|LA Lakers||9||12||.429||5 ½||7-6||2-6||3-2||7-10||101.8||98.7||+3.1||Lost 2||3-7|
|Sacramento||7||12||.368||6 ½||6-6||1-6||2-2||4-7||94.4||98.4||-4.0||Won 3||5-5|
It is that other team from Los Angeles that seems to be taking control of the Pacific early. That is also something that has never been said. The Clippers have never won a Pacific title in all of the years it has been in existence, and have only finished 2nd in the Pacific twice(once being last year). The Clippers started out hot, went on a four game losing streak where they couldn’t seem to get their offense into form, and have since gone on to win six straight games. Chris Paul is currently 2nd in the league in assists, and the team is both top ten in scoring as well as fewest points allowed per game. While they lack rebounding, this teams biggest issue will continue to be interior defense. In the playoffs last year, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin were highly relied on to make defensive plays, and came through. Those guys are gone now, and in return Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan have to become better post defenders. While the corpse of Lamar Odom and Ryan Hollins can eat up some minutes, you do not want them covering a Marc Gasol or a Tim Duncan in a Game 6 or 7. The division is the Clippers to take as along as the Lakers keep stumbling. If they continue to win the games they should(ten wins both in conference as in home) a four a better seed should be easily attainable come April.
(Yes, at times the Clippers have been so good Paul doesn’t even need to look to know Blake is gonna finish.)
While the Clippers season has been somewhat of a surprise, you could say the Warriors are an even bigger surprise, and find themselves only a half game back in the loss column. I think even the biggest Warrior fans would never have imagined this type of start with Andrew Bogut have only played four games this season, but the Warriors have picked up in his absence. David Lee is currently averaging 18.5 points and 11.7 rebounds a game, up from his career averages of 14.5 and 9.7. With Bogut out, rebounding was a huge concern, however the Warriors find themselves ranked 5th in the league as a team at this point. This stat is a little skewed with the amount of shots they both take and give up, but they have done it as a team with eight guys averaging at least three boards a game. Harrison Barnes is starting to prove more and more that he was worth tanking for(don’t try to tell anyone the Warriors didn’t tank last year to get into the top seven in the draft), and finds himself in the top five of many rookie of the year discussions. There is always one hot team that stutters halfway through in every NBA season however, and a four game East road trip coming up this week could be the start of that. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors handle a little playoff type basketball.
(It has been alot of happy times down in San Fran thus far. Kapernick who?)
And then there is the Lakers. Despite all that has gone wrong this year, the purple and gold find themselves in an okay position within their division in third. Lucky for them, the Kings and Suns also play in the Pacific. The excuses are all their, as we hinted in our power rankings this week. But we will list them off for you anyway:
1. Steve Nash isn’t healthy, we don’t know who we are until he is healthy.
2. We aren’t a team made for the Princeton Offense. We need to be more like the Showtime Lakers.
3. We are not the Showtime Lakers like everyone is trying to make us be. We are the 2012-2013 Lakers.
4. Kobe is taking too many shots.
5. Kobe isn’t taking enough shots.
6. People aren‘t playing us straight up, if they didn’t do Hack A Dwight we’d be better off.
7. Pau Gasol needs a new set of pants.
8. These guys aren’t showing up to every game, and so we don’t have our good luck charm.
9. Aren’t there other teams you can pick on!?
Needless to say, the Lakers have a few things to work out. While their offense at times has looked great, as we expected it would with the addition of Mike D‘Antoni, their defense has no intensity. They are either switching on screens with lazyness or not switching at all. Dwight isn’t popping out to interfere with the primary ball handler that he was so well known for doing in Orlando when he simply side steps out as the opposing play starts to develop. They can‘t close out on shooters, and teams have learned that if you simply pass the ball between three guys on the perimeter, one will open up with an empty shot. No one on the bench is known as a “defensive player” and even Steve Nash has never been known for that side of the ball. While this team obviously has the power to put up 130 a game(especially with the unreal season that Kobe is having that is getting lost in all this mess), if they can’t stop anyone how do they compete? Well oiled machines like the Spurs will outsmart them, younger teams like the Thunder will outwork them, and tough teams like the Grizz will outbruise them. If you can‘t beat those teams, forget about that Kobe vs. LeBron matchup that everyone wants.
While it is only a one game difference in the standings, the Kings would gladly swap the Lakers’ problems for what is currently going on in Sacramento. While they are winners of three straight, this team has to start to make some serious decisions, and they don’t even start with basketball ones. Until the Maloofs end this will we/won‘t we charade they have had the last few years, this team can never been successful on the court. No premier free agent is going to come play here unless their is a stable future for the franchise. What is keeping guys like Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins from skipping town? It is frustrating to watch talents like this grow up in this awful system that isn‘t helping them long term. Imagine what these guys could be playing under no nonsense coaches such as Thibs, Pop or Doc.(By the way, I love that they sound like elves there. I can totally imagine elves named Thibs Pop and Doc hard at work on a train set right now.) While the Kings could finish out the doormat of the division for the first time in six years, is that really an improvement?
The Suns find themselves three games back of the Kings in the loss column, and in an awful game of Purgatory as they try to find out what they have post Steve Nash era. For a franchise who probably feels they should have had at least one title out of the past teams, it has to be very frustrating for Phoenix fans to look at their current roster. Luis Scola, Jared Dudley and Martin Gortat are the ultimate professionals, but you have to wonder how long they can handle being on this type of team. Goran Dragic has proved he is worthy of a starting point guard position, but it is pretty tough to prove yourself any further than that when Michael Beasley is your scoring option. The Beasley signing has turned out to be a huge bust already(surprise, surprise) as he is averaging below his career average in every major stat except assists(which, well, almost made me faint to hear he‘s passing the ball more.) The one stat that really stands out is the 38% from the floor, which just shouldn’t happen for someone who could live closer to the hoop if he ever worked at developing a post game. While it seems as though he‘ll be coming off the bench from now on, having Shannon Brown as your replacement…..I mean I don’t think I need to go into it. Don‘t be surprised at all to see guys like Gortat, Scola, or even Dudley(who is the lifeblood of this team after learning under Nash) to be poached by contenders looking for sturdy role players to help them come spring time.
(There have been alot of confused Suns huddles like this one thus far.)
Some Pacific games of notice to check out on League Pass:
Clippers @ Bulls 12/11
Grizzlies @ Suns 12/12
Lakers @ Knicks 12/13
Lakers @ Wizards 12/14(Imagine if they lost? Dear god I could only dream of the Kobe GIF’s)
Kings @ Thunder 12/14
Golden State @ Atlanta 12/15
Lakers @ 76ers 12/16
Until next time, Your NBA(Pacific themed) YouTube Clip!