The Thunder are getting by without Russell Westbrook
To say the Thunder are thriving, that would be an overstatement. They're just kind of treading water, hanging on, surviving. In the seven games without Westbrook, they're 4-3 with two home losses and most recently a 112-101 takedown by the Jazz in Utah.
A lot of it is because Kevin Durant is that good -- he's averaging 35.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists the last seven games -- but a lot of it is also because the Thunder are deeper than they were in the postseason without Westbrook.
Here are the Thunder in these seven without Westbrook:
- They're allowing 99.8 points per 100 possessions and scoring 108.0
- Again, they're 4-3, but their average margin of victory is +6.4, which is aided by two blowout wins over the Celtics and Rockets
- Their second leading scorer has been Reggie Jackson, Westbrook's stand-in, who is averaging 14.9 points, 4.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He's done an admirable job, he's clearly playing outside his comfort zone.
The Warriors are flying again
They've won 10 straight. Probably not coincidentally, they have a healthy Andre Iguodala back in the lineup.
And don't look now, but with the top of the West in a bit if disarray with the Thunder missing Westbrook, the Spurs spinning their wheels a bit, the Blazers coming back towards reality and the Clipers without Chris Paul, Golden State's now only four back of the No. 1 seed.
Within the Warriors streak, they have wins over the Clippers, the Suns, the Heat, and the Nuggets. Seven of the 10 have been on the road. The Splash Brothers are splashing, but more importantly, they're back to play wrecking ball defense. And it really does seem as simple as they got Iguodala back.
With Iguodala on the floor this season, the Warriors are allowing 93.7 points per 100 possessions, which would be the top defensive rating in the league. Without him, 102.2, which would be middle of the road. Iguodala has a +17.5 net rating, which is by far the highest on their team.
Which leads me to this question: Should Andre Iguodala get some MVP consideration? Assuming we still take the "V" to mean valuable, couldn't the case be made that the Warriors without Iguodala are a drunken mess, but with him are an elite defensive team that's capable of ripping off 10 straight wins?
Chris Paul is important
The Clippers will have to feel what life is like without Chris Paul for the next six weeks because of a separated shoulder. So far, they're 1-1 with a blowout loss to the Spurs and a blowout win over the Magic.
But it's obvious: They need CP3. Because the way the Clippers are designed, pretty much everything they do functions properly only with a top tier point guard. Blake Griffin, for as good as he is and has been this season, isn't the kind of player you give it to 20 times a game and get out of his way. Jamal Crawford is basically the only guy on the team that can play at his same level with or without CP3, because other than that, Paul gets J.J. Redick shots, Jared Dudley shots, DeAndre Jordan shots and so on.
Their schedule through January includes a seven-game road stretch, but good news, it's entirely against the Eastern Conference. Things get more challenging for the Clippers in February against the Heat, Blazers, Thunder and Spurs, so getting through the next three weeks looking solid will be big for the Clips.
Because as of now, the Clippers have slipped to fifth in the West. With the Warriors surging and the Rockets close behind, the Clippers face the very real possibility of not having home court at any point in the postseason. And if they struggle without Paul, they could drop at low as seventh, which would mean a first round matchup with either the Spurs or Thunder, most likely.
The Spurs are slipping a bit
By "slipping," I mean that they aren't winning basically every regular season game they look at. The Spurs have a regular season standard that makes it shocking when they lose a game, so despite them going 7-3 in their last 10 games, it feels like they're vulnerable.
They came close to giving one entirely away to the Grizzlies on Tuesday, but held on in overtime. Even at 27-8, it just seems like the Spurs are missing a little something right now. Tony Parker has played inconsistently, the bench hasn't been as dominant as it has in the past and at times, the age starts showing some.
The Spurs are obviously not going anywhere and they'll be right in the middle of the top seeding conversation in the West, but it doesn't appear that they're going to run off and hide with the No. 1 seed. The opportunity is there for them, because would you believe, they're currently one of the healthiest teams in the West right now.
The Trail Blazers are coming back to reality
As the Blazers piled up wins to start the season, everyone kept asking the same question: "Wait, are they for real?" They'd win a big game, they'd beat a contender, they'd rip off five straight, and yet we were all still asking it.
It's not that the Blazers are fool's gold, it's just that a) they came out of nowhere to be this good, which is hard to grasp sometimes and b) they have obvious flaws.
The Blazers are a team built on a dynamic starting five, a strong 3-point game and the assumption good players will make lots of shots. Defensively, they're soft, allowing 105.0 points per 100 possessions, 23rd in the league. They statistically possess the best offense and at times, can look downright unbeatable.
But they've lost four of six, with three of those losses come to the Pelicans, 76ers and Kings. And did you know this: The Blazers have allowed their opponent at least 100 points in 11 of their last 12.
The Blazers have answered the question of if they're for real already, meaning they're absolutely a playoff team and someone you probably wouldn't be excited to face in the first round. But they do have some holes and in terms of the Western race right now, they don't appear to be taking control either.
The tl;dr: The Western Conference is wide open
At least in terms of the regular season race. A team like the Thunder appear to be more concerned with the postseason, and the same could be said for the Spurs. But the top four seeds, which means homecourt in the opening round, are kind of up for grabs, especially the top two spots. The Thunder are still holding on to it somehow because no one has gone and taken it from them.
But if you want the No. 1 seed, you might just be a five-game winning streak from it.