Less than a month to go before the start of the 2013-2014 NBA season and we can already tell, with a high degree of certainty, which will be the top teams in the Western Conference. As in previous years, this conference is much deeper than the Eastern Conference and consequently, much tougher. Several teams can actually pull surprises but barring major injuries, the powerhouse teams look good to go deep into the playoffs. Here are the top 5 teams in the West by rank:
1) Los Angeles Clippers—The Clips will emerge as the top team in the West due to a big addition to their bench – former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Getting Rivers was a coup sorts since he was one of the “prerequisites” for re-signing franchise guard Chris Paul. He is a coach that commands respect from superstars and has a system that has brought success to the Celts. More importantly, he brings a winning mindset to a team that has all the pieces but need a brilliant bench tactician to take them over the top. The Clippers didn’t waste any time in the off-season to shore up their line-up, bringing in shooters Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, plus two versatile bigs in Bryon Mullens and Antawn Jamison. The Clips are fully loaded and will definitely contend this year.
2) San Antonio Spurs—Despite the advancing age of the Spurs’ Big Three, they have managed to be among the top teams in the West, year in and year out. The Spurs have 4 titles since the Tim Duncan era and are among the winningest franchises in professional sports. They are just too hard to write off. Who would have thought that the Spurs would only be a few minutes away from winning their 5th title in the 2013 NBA Finals? They were that close. The Spurs organization always had a penchant for finding unheralded talent and now they have an emerging homegrown star who will slowly take more of the load as Duncan and Ginobili reach the twilight of their careers. Kahwi Leonard will bear this burden and be an essential part of the team’s success.
3) Oklahoma City Thunder – Some of you would say that the Thunder should be tops in the West but their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs semifinals showed the team’s weakness – a lack of other options outside of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder lost sixth man Kevin Martin in the off-season and are now thinner than ever. With Westbrook nursing an injury to start the season, the Thunder will have a rough start and Durant will carry most of the load. As a small market team with limited resources, the Thunder will be hard-pressed to give their dynamic duo more help.
4) Houston Rockets – Any team with a healthy Dwight Howard plus a top five player like James Harden will automatically be in the thick of the race. Aside from their superstars, they have other exciting young players such as Chandler Parsons and Donatas Montiejunas. The Rockets have a very strong starting unit and depth that would give opposing teams fits. With several new players, the real challenge is for the team to find chemistry early. If and when they do, Houston might just pull off a big surprise.
5) Memphis Grizzlies – One of the best defensive teams in the league, the Grizz now need to work on their offense, specifically their outside shooting. This is why they brought in dead shot Mike Miller to help with their spacing and help get easier shots for their star bigs Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. They have enough talent so new coach Dave Joerger should have no problem. What he needs to do is really manage the egos on this team if he wants to improve on last year’s 56-26 record.