NBA Northwest Division Round Up: Denver and Utah Find an Identity

Before the season started OKC distinguished itself as the division’s elite. After making it to the finals as the Western Conference representative with a young team everyone knew they would win the division. Denver and Utah are trending upwards due to the emphasis on pace. Portland has hit a rough stretch after surviving the early season without a bench. In the process, making those who use Pythagorean Win Projections happy by reverting to the mean in losing games. Minnesota’s season went the way of Kevin Love‘s right hand, in that they are both broken.

NORTHWEST

W

L

DIFF

L10

32

8

.800

19-3

13-5

5-1

20-3

105.7

96.4

+9.3

Won 6

8-2

24

18

.571

9

15-3

9-15

4-5

17-11

102.7

100.4

+2.3

Lost 2

7-3

21

19

.525

11

12-4

9-15

2-3

12-14

98.4

98.6

-0.2

Won 2

6-4

20

19

.513

11 ½

13-6

7-13

3-3

12-11

96.9

99.0

-2.1

Lost 4

5-5

16

20

.444

14

10-6

6-14

3-5

9-13

94.8

96.7

-1.9

Lost 5

3-7

The Oklahoma City Thunder
http://www.nba.com/thunder/
This Week’s Games: 9-2:
1. Win vs. Phoenix 114-96
2. Loss vs. Brooklyn 110-93
3. Win vs. Philadelphia 109-85
4. Win @ Toronto 104-92
5. Loss @ Washington 101-99
6. Win vs. Minnesota 106-84
7. Win @ LA Lakers 116-101
8. Win @ Portland 87-83
9. Win @ Phoenix 102-90
10. Win vs Denver 117-97
11. Win @ Dallas 117-114 OT

Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 3-1
1. @ Denver Sunday at 8:00
2. @ LA Clippers Tuesday at 10:30
3. @ Golden State Wednesday at 10:30
4. @ Sacramento Friday at 10:00

The Thunder can win in many ways. Last night they won behind a career high 52 by Kevin Durant, two games earlier they won with the defense of Kendrick Perkins. On other occasions Ibaka has used his rim protection and athleticism to turn the tide, much the same as Westbrook can catch fire and single handedly carry his team.  The Thunder are the most well rounded team in the league.

Currently OKC’s biggest problem is a lack of depth, as of now they have seven trustworthy rotation players. I say currently because this will cease to be a problem in the playoffs when the rotations shorten. In the meantime the Thunder would benefit greatly if Jackson, Liggins, Maynor, and/or Jones could step up and give them reliable bench play. In their shocking loss to the Wizards their lack of a bench hurt them. On the second night of back to backs they were not able to keep their legs fresh without a deep bench.

Even without a bounty of depth, the Thunder are the best team in the league. With Miami still dealing with their championship hangover OKC is my odds on favorite to win the title.

The Denver Nuggets
This Week’s Games: 7-3
1. Win vs. LA Clippers 92-78
2. Loss vs. Minnesota Timberwolves 101-97
3. Win vs. Utah 110-91
4. Win @ LA Lakers 112-105
5. Win vs. Orlando 108-105
6. Win vs. Cleveland 98-91
7. Win vs. Golden State 116-105
8. Win vs. Portland 115-110 OT
9. Loss @ OKC 117-97
10. Loss vs. Washington 112-108

Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-1
1. vs. OKC Sunday at 8:00
2. @ Houston Wednesday at 8:00
Since my last Northwest round up Denver has cemented itself in the second spot in the Northwest. All season, their players have been playing under their capabilities and now they are finally getting their footing. Along with their improved play Denver is benefiting from a home heavy schedule. To begin the season no team played more away games than Denver, now those numbers are evening out. While going 7-3 in their last ten games they are 6-1 at home and 1-1 on the road.

During the month of January, the Nuggets have made a concerted effort to push the pace, taking more shots and getting to the line more than in any other full month. Their increased output has not been solely at the offensive end. The Nuggets are finally playing with defensive discipline to back up their unrivaled athleticism. Their steal numbers are at a season low but on this team that is actually a good thing. Defensively the Nuggs are staying true to their rotations, trusting their teammates to be in the correct spot instead of gambling on steals. This has lead to their best defensive field goal percentage of any month.

This week Denver has two tough opponents in OKC and Houston. Both the games should be fast paced affairs that whose speed favors the Nuggets. The Thunder are simply a better team and will outdo the Nuggets at their preferred pace giving them the victory. The Rockets will push the tempo at their own peril and end up paying for it with a loss.

The Utah Jazz
This Week’s Games: 6-3
1. Loss @ LA Clippers 107-96
2. Win vs. Minnesota 106-84
3. Win @ Phoenix 87-80
4. Loss @ Denver 110-91
5. Win vs. Dallas 100-94
6. Win @ Charlotte 112-102
7. Loss @ Atlanta 103-95
8. Win @ Detroit 90-87
9. Win vs. Miami 104-97
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 3-0
1. vs. Cleveland Saturday at 9:00
2. vs. Washington Wednesday at 9:00
3. @ LA Lakers Friday at 10:30
The Utah Jazz are glad to put a 6-9 December behind them. Since the start of January they have compiled a 6-2 record, including and impressive win in their last game against Miami. Utah is home to one of the most feared arenas in the league. That Utah was able to compile a 6-3 record, while having to play six of those games on the road is truly astounding and  indicative of their improved play.

While Denver used an increase pace to fuel their resurgence, Utah has been successful doing the opposite. During January the Jazz have taken less shots and scored less points than any other month. Normally this would be a huge red flag, but for the Jazz it is a positive.

Utah is a team built upon its impressive front court with two boarder line all stars starting at power forward and center. Their size extends past their starters for they have two future stars in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. With their elite size the Jazz are a team best suited for physical half court game, that they have turned to this method is the driving factor behind their success.

This week Utah will use their half court oriented attack against Cleveland Washington and the Lakers. Cleveland does not have the size to match up with Utah and should fall to them. Washington is currently red hot with the return of John Wall, this should extend to their game against Utah. The Lakers are playing better but not to the same level the Jazz are, expect the Jazz to obtain a signture win against a streaking Los Angeles.

The Portland Trailblazers
This Week’s Games: 5-5
1. Win @ New York 105-100
2. Loss @ Tornoto 102-79
3. Win @ Memphis 86-84
4. Win @ Minnesota 102-97
5. Win vs. Orlando 125-119 OT
6. Win vs. Miami 92-90
7. Loss @ Golden State 103-97
8. Loss vs. OKC 87-83
9. Loss @ Denver 115-111 OT
10. Loss vs. Cleveland 93-88
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-2
1. vs Milwaukee Saturday at 10:00
2. vs Washington Monday at 10:00
3. vs Indiana Wednesday at 10:00
All year Portland has been overachieving. Statistical experts often use point differential as a measure of how good a team really is. If a team has a winning record but a negative point differential this statistic would indicate that this team is due for a losing streak. Portland has the worst differential in the division despite having five more wins than Minnesota and this is after the recent four game (mean reverting) losing streak. Luck is a difficult thing to measure in sports but if you believe in luck you could make an argument that Portland’s luck is evening out.
If, you don’t believe in luck in sports you probably want me to explain the deficiency that has caused the Blazers recent losing streak. The Blazers are a top heavy roster, meaning that their starters are very good but their bench leave a lot to be desired. This imbalance has lead to the Blazers starters logging more minutes than any other such group in the NBA. Meaning that not only are the Blazers negatively effected when their bench is in the game but their lack of a bench is wearing on their starters.
The Blazers must quickly decide whether to add pieces to their bench in order to make a playoff run (sacrificing draft picks and young players to do so) or if they are to hope their young players develop. This week the Blazers should continue their losing ways against Washington and Indiana but should have enough to defeat a reeling Bucks team.
The Minnesota Timberwolves
This Week’s Games: 2-7
1. Loss @ Utah 106-84
2. Win @ Denver 101-97
3. Loss vs. Portland 102-97
4. Win vs. Atlanta 108-103
5. Loss @ OKC 106-84
6. Loss @ New Orleans 104-92
7. Loss @ San Antonio 106-88
8. Loss @ Dallas 113-98
9. Loss vs LA Clippers 90-77
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-3
1. vs. Houston Saturday at 8:00
2. @ Atlanta Monday at 2:00
3. vs. Brooklyn Wednesday at  8:00
4. @ Washington Friday at 7:00
The Timberwolves, have been dealing with injuries all season. Recently, however, the injuries have become too much to bare. The injuries have reached a tipping point, finally preventing the Wolves from competing. With Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Chase Buddinger all out the Wolves are missing three players projected to start at the beginning of the year. That along with Ricky Rubio yet to play a game at 100 percent has precluded Minnesota from winning. Analyzing their style of play would be useless at this point considering they currently have a team comprised of spare parts.
The Wolves are currently mired in a five game losing streak. Things do not get any easier for the wounded ballers from Minnesota this week. Three of their games this week are against contending teams and the fourth is against a red hot Washington team with John Wall back. I expect the T-Wolves to win one of these games in what would now be deemed an upset.

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