2023-02-23 · 2 min read · NBA/Basketball
Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic

NBA.com | Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images | ESPN

A West Power Shift
With the trade deadline and All-Star break now in the rearview, we can turn our attention to the stretch run of the regular season, and who’s emerged as true contenders.
It’s a discussion that has changed drastically over the last two weeks, particularly in the West, where Phoenix seems to be in the poll position, despite having yet to play a single minute with their new and improved roster.
Obviously, on paper, the addition of Kevin Durant makes Phoenix formidable. A starting lineup of Chris Paul, Josh Okogie, Devin Booker, Durant, and Deandre Ayton looks the part of a title contender. The beauty of adding a superstar like Durant also is his ability to be malleable and adapt to any and every offence with any other ball-dominant player in the league.
His addition into the fold should be seamless, especially given the MVP level Booker is playing at right now. Phoenix did sacrifice some of their wing depth and defence in the trade, which could hurt their ability to defend some of the prime-time wings in the West come postseason time, such as Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic.
But the main concern is health. With an aging Chris Paul coupled with Durant’s injury history, it's a serious question whether they’ll be able to last four straight rounds.
If they can find a way to manage Paul’s minutes and get lucky with Durant, they have to be considered the favourite to at least win the conference.
Still, Phoenix shouldn't be crowned just yet. The LA Clippers, led by the aforementioned Leonard along with fellow superstar Paul George, is lurking in the shadows.
LA is finally healthy for the first time in two years, and they’re playing some of the best basketball of anyone in the league of late. Whether the addition of Russell Westbrook will help them depends on opinion (I’m going with the ladder). Regardless though, they still possess the deepest wing rotation in the league and have proven playoff performers along with a championship-level head coach in Tyronn Lue.
Another team that has to be mentioned is the conference-leading Denver Nuggets, who have been plowing through the entire league at this point, sitting comfortably in the top spot in the West with a 41-18 record. No one will catch that mark, meaning they’ll have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
They also have the best player in basketball, and likely MVP Nikola Jokic, who would become just the fourth player in league history to win the award three seasons in a row.
Denver made some roster consolidation moves at the deadline, trading away the trigger-happy Bones Hyland while bringing in Thomas Bryant, who’s an underrated backup center, to provide insurance for Jokic.
Once you get past those three teams, Dallas is also interesting with the addition of Kyrie Irving, and though they’ve been in a free fall of late, Memphis also needs to be at least taken seriously.
Then, there’s the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who could be primed for a run to jump into the top half of the conference if they can get Steph Curry healthy.
One thing’s for sure, the race for the West has certainly gotten interesting.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Eddie Huband


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