For years, the Western Conference has reigned supreme over its Eastern counterpart, consistently having better top-end teams and more impressive depth from top to bottom. But while the two best teams in the NBA are generally considered to be the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets (though the Boston Celtics, winners of 16 straight, would beg to differ), the days of the West being vastly superior — or, frankly, even remotely superior — appear to be over. Besieged by a combination of injuries and poor play, the West is awash with teams struggling to figure out what’s next outside of a few elites. Here’s a rundown on the teams either struggling or dealing with injury issues — or, in many cases, both — beginning with the team holding the league’s longest losing streak. Los Angeles Clippers To say it has been a rocky start to the season for the Clippers is an understatement. Now losers of nine straight, the Clippers have lost most of those games with three starters — guards Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic and forward Danilo Gallinari — all sidelined with injuries, though Beverley returned for Monday’s loss in New York. But even with that understandable excuse, the Clippers haven’t won a game in three weeks. That’s why talk has been rampant around the NBA that Coach Doc Rivers could be out the door soon. It’s unlikely Rivers would want to sign up for a long rebuilding project, and if things continue to go sideways in Los Angeles, selling off pieces seems like the only logical step for the Clippers. DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million). Because other contenders also are floundering, the 5-11 Clippers are only two games out of a playoff spot. But after games Wednesday in Atlanta, Saturday in Sacramento and Monday at home against the Lakers, the schedule gets a lot tougher in December. Denver Nuggets The Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to a three-year, $90 million contract this summer to stabilize their defense without sacrificing offense. He’s played his part: Denver has the league’s fifth-best offense (the same as last season) and No. 17 defense — a vast improvement over last season’s ranking of 29. But the all-star power forward will miss the next three months after undergoing wrist surgery Tuesday. Coach Mike Malone has a critical decision to make about how to fill the minutes vacated by Millsap, and none of the choices is obvious. It seems Kenneth Faried will get first crack. Faried started Monday’s win over Sacramento, and has nice chemistry with star center Nikola Jokic. He should get an opportunity to return to a regular rotation role — and once again become a rebounding machine — with Millsap sidelined. If he falters, Trey Lyles and Juan Hernangomez would see additional minutes, and Malone likely would try to pair Jokic with Mason Plumlee.
Injuries and chemistry issues are causing a disturbance in the once-dominant Western Conference
Washington Post | Nov 22