by user Davis21wylie

(Click here to go to the Eastern Conference Preview, which also explains the various stats on this page.)

Let's continue with the Western Conference, a conference that is (at least in the 2-8 seeds) superior to the East...

1. San Antonio Spurs (63-19)

The Vitals:
Coach: Gregg Popovich (9th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 61-21
Offensive Rating: 105.8 (9th in NBA)
Defensive Rating: 97.5 (1st)
Pace Factor: 90.0 (23rd)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Tony Parker          20.78    6
SG  Manu Ginobili        22.27    4
SF  Bruce Bowen           9.15   61
PF  Tim Duncan           23.04    5
C   Rasho Nesterovic     10.98   44
PG  Beno Udrih           15.19   24
C   Nazr Mohammed        15.05    8
SG  Brent Barry          14.87   21
PF  Robert Horry         13.60   40
SF  Michael Finley       12.65   37
PG  Nick Van Exel        10.93   58

Why They Can Win:
Um, let's see... defending champs? Check. Starting lineup featuring three of the 20 best players in the league? Check. Three of the best-looking significant others in the NBA in Eva Longoria, Raquel Ginobili, and Amy Duncan? Check. Okay, so that last one had nothing to do with basketball, but it's worth noting anyway. Let me make one thing clear: The Spurs are studs. They've got more depth than any other team in the game, their defense is one of the best NBA history (let that sink in for a second), and they've won titles in three of the last seven seasons. They've got the pieces to repeat.
Why They Can't Win:
Well, I guess they're not a good offensive rebounding team, so that's one ray of hope for opponents... But they miss so rarely, it's hardly a concern. This team has basically no weaknesses. I pity the Kings, and any other team that has to face them.
Where They'll End Up: The Finals, no doubt. I can't wait for a Spurs-Pistons rematch...

2. Phoenix Suns (54-28)

The Vitals:
Coach: Mike D'Antoni (11th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 55-27
Offensive Rating: 109.9 (1st)
Defensive Rating: 103.5 (16th)
Pace Factor: 97.6 (1st)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Steve Nash           23.23    4
SG  Raja Bell            12.88   33
SF  Tim Thomas           12.12   45
PF  Shawn Marion         23.59    2
C   Brian Grant           6.63
SF  Boris Diaw           17.21   13
SG  Eddie House          15.20   18
PG  Leandro Barbosa      15.04   26
SF  James Jones          13.17   34
PF  Kurt Thomas          13.10   45

Why They Can Win:
A historically good offense, led by MVP candidate Steve Nash. The Suns excel at everything offensively, whether it be shooting the lights out or avoiding turnovers like the plague. What's more, they've got crazy depth (even without Amare Stoudemire!), and a whole host of gazelles for Nash to get out on the fast break with. They're very fun to watch.
Why They Can't Win:
The defense is lacking, thanks in part to an extreme lack of size. The only two "centers" on the roster are Grant and Kurt Thomas (who may not even play in the first round), and they're both converted PF's. If the game goes half-court, the Suns go south in a hurry. They have no physical presence inside to deny opponents on the offensive glass, and must rely on basically Marion and Bell alone on defense with Thomas gone.
Where They'll End Up: Maybe nowhere, if Kobe Bryant gets hot. Even if they beat the Lakers, San Antonio and/or Dallas will eventually loom. They're a fun team, but they're just not a great one.

3. Denver Nuggets (44-38)

The Vitals:
Coach: George Karl (16th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 42-40
Offensive Rating: 103.3 (18th)
Defensive Rating: 102.9 (13th)
Pace Factor: 96.0 (2nd)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Andre Miller         16.36   17
SG  Carmelo Anthony      21.96    4
SF  Ruben Patterson      15.32   23
PF  Kenyon Martin        16.70   19
C   Marcus Camby         19.97    4
PG  Earl Boykins         15.60   21
SF  Linas Kleiza         13.14   35
PF  Reggie Evans         12.20   54
SG  DerMarr Johnson      11.73   38
SG  Greg Buckner         11.43   42
SF  Eduardo Najera       10.97   54
C   Francisco Elson      10.10   47

Why They Can Win:
They push the pace hard, which could play a role in winning home games at Denver's altitude. They've got good depth at every position; behind San Antonio, they might be the NBA's deepest team. Their ball-pressure is among the best in the league.
Why They Can't Win:
This is a mediocre team stocked with a bunch of good-but-not-great players. While they score well in transition, their halfcourt offense is lacking, and they don't rebound well, either. Even though they won their division, they will not have home-court advantage in Round One, thanks to the Clippers' better record.
Where They'll End Up: They are capable of beating either L.A. team, but Phoenix would tear them up. They'll probably end up losing to the Clippers in the first round anyway.

4. Dallas Mavericks (60-22)

The Vitals:
Coach: Avery Johnson (7th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 58-24
Offensive Rating: 109.5 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: 102.7 (11th)
Pace Factor: 98.6 (25th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Jason Terry          18.45   11
SG  Jerry Stackhouse     14.49   25
SF  Josh Howard          19.33    8
PF  Dirk Nowitzki        28.12    1
C   DeSagana Diop        11.64   40
PG  Devin Harris         17.48   14
SG  Marquis Daniels      14.96   19
C   Erick Dampier        14.00   24
SF  Keith Van Horn       13.81   30
PG  Darrell Armstrong     7.32   71

Why They Can Win:
Dallas is, at last, a well-balanced team capable of playoff success. By slowing the pace down, Avery Johnson gave the team a chance on defense, and the team now boasts a top wing defender in Josh Howard. The Mavs hit the offensive boards hard and get to the line often, two things that make them so efficient. Plus, Dirk Nowitzki has emerged as a true MVP-type player in the three years since Dallas' last deep playoff bid.
Why They Can't Win:
The road goes through San Antonio, thanks to the NBA's asinine playoff seeding method that gives an automatic top-3 seed to a division winner.
Where They'll End Up: Regrettably, they won't beat San Antonio. But it'll be one hell of a show to see them try.

5. Memphis Grizzlies (49-33)

The Vitals:
Coach: Mike Fratello (15th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 52-30
Offensive Rating: 104.1 (15th)
Defensive Rating: 100.1 (2nd)
Pace Factor: 87.6 (30th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Damon Stoudamire     13.79   38
SG  Eddie Jones          14.73   23
SF  Shane Battier        14.77   27
PF  Pau Gasol            22.77    6
C   Jake Tsakalidis      17.43    9
SG  Mike Miller          17.31   12
PG  Bobby Jackson        14.60   33
PG  Chucky Atkins        13.09   42
C   Lorenzen Wright      12.26   32
SF  Hakim Warrick        11.07   53

Why They Can Win:
Memphis has transformed into a great defensive team under Mike Fratello. His schemes have made the Grizzlies a swarming team that loves to force turnovers and bad shots, and Pau Gasol is one of the NBA's better shot-blockers. On offense, the plan is to take the air out of the ball and work for good shots, which has made them an above-average eFG% team. Depth is once again an advantage.
Why They Can't Win:
Their path to the Finals is probably the most difficult of any team with an actual chance. Dallas, then San Antonio... those are long odds. Additionally, their slow pace will likely play right into Dallas' hands, and scoring will be an uphill battle against the Mavs.
Where They'll End Up: Even if they beat Dallas (not likely in and of itself), the Spurs are waiting. Come back next year, guys.

6. Los Angeles Clippers (47-35)

The Vitals:
Coach: Mike Dunleavy (4th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 46-36
Offensive Rating: 103.7 (17th)
Defensive Rating: 101.4 (7th)
Pace Factor: 93.3 (11th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Sam Cassell          18.46   10
SG  Cuttino Mobley       13.11   32
SF  Vladimir Radmanovic  13.57   41
PF  Elton Brand          26.59    3
C   Chris Kaman          15.01   20
SG  Corey Maggette       18.84    9
SF  James Singleton      13.55   32
PG  Shaun Livingston     10.26   61
SG  Quinton Ross          7.39   62
C   Zeljko Rebraca       10.67

Why They Can Win:
Defense! While they don't force many turnovers, the Clips are great at forcing and rebounding missed shots. Elton Brand and Chris Kaman are an intimidating shot-blocking duo down low, and Corey Maggette has been known to disrupt opponents on the wing with his athleticism.
Why They Can't Win:
Aside from the holy trinity of Brand, Cassell, and Maggette, the Clippers are a mediocre offensive team that is reluctant to hit the glass for second-chance opportunities. They are not particularly deep, either, which could affect them against Denver, particularly in the thin air.
Where They'll End Up: I think they'll beat Denver, if not simply on the collective efforts of their Big Three. Both the Lakers and the Suns can be had as well; look for the Clippers as a potential dark horse Conference Finals bid.

7. Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)

The Vitals:
Coach: Phil Jackson (8th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 48-34
Offensive Rating: 106.1 (8th)
Defensive Rating: 103.4 (15th)
Pace Factor: 92.9 (14th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Smush Parker         13.36   41
SG  Kobe Bryant          27.93    1
SF  Lamar Odom           17.00   15
PF  Kwame Brown          11.76   38
C   Chris Mihm           15.29   13
PF  Brian Cook           15.66   25
SF  Luke Walton          11.67   49
SF  Devean George        11.37   52
SG  Sasha Vujacic         8.37   60
PF  Ronny Turiaf         12.43

Why They Can Win:
Kobe. Bryant. All-world performer Kobe can carry the Lakers far, though he might not have to do it all by himself. Brian Cook emerged as a great shooter within the triangle, and Lamar Odom and Chris Mihm provide Bryant more than adequate help on offense. The Lakers are a fine rebounding team as well, meaning more second chances for this offense. Still, though, this is Kobe's world and we're all just living in it. He can take over a series by himself, and it may be enough to propel the Lake Show past Phoenix.
Why They Can't Win:
Phil Jackson has worked wonders on this defense from a year ago, but they're still merely average. If Phoenix can bait them into playing a fast pace, the Suns will scorch the scoreboard. The bench isn't much to speak of, either.
Where They'll End Up: They can definitely beat Phoenix, especially if Kobe has a few of his signature games. This is another dark-horse CF team, but I'm going to go ahead and call at least a first-round upset over the Suns.

8. Sacramento Kings (44-38)

The Vitals:
Coach: Rick Adelman (22nd)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 45-37
Offensive Rating: 104.6 (11th)
Defensive Rating: 102.8 (12th)
Pace Factor: 93.9 (8th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Mike Bibby           17.81   13
SG  Bonzi Wells          16.62   14
SF  Ron Artest           14.98   24
PF  Shareef Abdur-Rahim  17.26   17
C   Brad Miller          17.48    8
PF  Kenny Thomas         15.04   29
SG  Kevin Martin         14.81   22
SF  Francisco Garcia     10.39   57
PG  Jason Hart            7.12   72
SF  Corliss Williamson    8.02

Why They Can Win:
Balance is the watchword when it comes to Sacramento, who boast a top seven that few opponents can match, top-to-bottom. The Kings aren't a great ballclub, and they don't excel at any one thing, but they are a solid team nonetheless. Ron Artest has given their defense a boost since his arrival, and an Abdur-Rahim/Miller/Thomas frontline is a daunting assignment for opposing defenses.
Why They Can't Win:
For starters, they're going up against San Antonio in the first round. Secondly, they've had a wildly inconsistent season, meaning you never know which Kings club will show up at the arena. Beyond the top seven, depth is a concern. The Kings have been eliminated in the opening round three times in the last seven years.
Where They'll End Up: Artest and the Maloofs will be able to have a beer and watch the second round on TV, thanks to Tim Duncan and co.


Fri 04/21/06, 11:18 am EST

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