NBA's Western Conference is top-heavy

Other than the Miami Heat, most of the league's top teams reside out West.
By John Rohde Published: January 5, 2013
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photo - Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, right, puts up a shot as Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol, of Spain, defends during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)  ORG XMIT: LAS109
Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, right, puts up a shot as Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol, of Spain, defends during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) ORG XMIT: LAS109

The NBA's Western Conference once again is top-heavy, but will it be heavy enough to steal the crown away from King James and the Miami Heat come June?

Eight of the league's top 10 teams reside in the West.

The Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors have weighed in early as contenders, ready to challenge last season's final conference pairing of the San Antonio Spurs and the Thunder.

The Houston Rockets are raising eyebrows as the league's highest-scoring team after being projected as cellar-dwellers prior to trading for James Harden.

The Denver Nuggets finally are off their Globetrotters tour and after Sunday will play 13 of their next 15 games at home.

Meanwhile, high expectations continue to weigh heavily upon the Los Angeles Lakers, who inexplicably continue to tread water with four Hall of Famers in their starting lineup.

Even readjusted projections for the Lakers still leave them in our top 10 (see chart below).

The Portland Trail Blazers, under the direction of former Oklahoma player Terry Stotts, are playing well.

If their roster can manage to stay healthy, the Minnesota Timberwolves should get to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

What, besides the Heat, does the Eastern Conference have to offer?

The New York Knicks have become a .500 team since an 18-5 start. The Atlanta Hawks can't be trusted. The Chicago Bulls are still missing Derrick Rose. The Boston Celtics' high-water mark this season was 12-9 and they're now sub-.500.

Believe it or not, the East's second-best team might be the Brooklyn Nets, who have gone 5-1 since firing their coach.

The Eastern Conference playoffs figure to be little more than a right of passage for the Heat to repeat as champs a third straight year, but the wild, wild West should be one heck of a gunfight.

SWEET 16

Eight teams each from the Western and Eastern conferences advance to the playoffs, but right now it appears 10 of the top 16 teams hail from the West. Our current NBA Sweet 16:

1. San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan has turned back the clock, and the Spurs simply need to stay healthy. Coach Gregg Popovich will prepare his team accordingly.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Thunder already has played a league-high 20 home games (17-3). Stiff challenge has arrived with 11 of next 13 games on the road.