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Keeping Up With the Rest of the West: One Month In

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To help you keep track of the events and injuries in the NBA during this lockout-shortened season, I will be writing weekly, starting now, to let you know how the Clippers compare with other teams in the West.

We are one month into a young NBA season that sees the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoff picture for the first time in, well, a very long time. LAC hasn't started a season this well since the fateful season in 2006. Despite the slow schedule for the Clips so far, it has been a crazy start to the season. We've seen major injuries, surprise teams, and underachievers.

The All-Star voting results are coming in, and the standings are starting to fall into place as we pass the euphoria of the early-season games and enter the grind that is the NBA regular season.

Let's start off with injuries.

We all knew it was coming. With games coming at a much faster pace this season, everyone knew that depth and youth would be key to sustained success. Star players on contending teams have missed time, including for the defending champions, where last year's finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki is going to miss four games with a sore knee, and Jason Kidd has already missed time with back problems.

Spread across the other fourteen West teams, many more stars have been injured (Nene Hilairo, heel, 4 games; Stephen Curry, ankle, 9 games; Chris Paul, hamstring, 4 games; Zach Randolph, knee, 11 games, 4-6 more weeks; Eric Gordon, knee, 14 games, 2-3 more weeks; Manu Ginobli, hand, 12 games, 4-6 more weeks).

That's not every injury. That's only the stars. Oklahoma City, the top team in the conference standings, hasn't suffered an injury to a major player yet (although they lost backup guard Eric Maynor). Other teams such as the Lakers, Houston, and Utah are all in good shape and haven't missed many games due to injury (Bynum's 4 missed games are due to suspension).

While injuries occur every year, there is no doubt that the schedule has caused more this season. But now let's look at some of the overachievers and underachievers, a trend that happens in every season:

  • Denver Nuggets: Wow. I mean, they are #2 in the entire West. Weren't they supposed to be worse without traded superstar Carmelo Anthony? Shouldn't they be rebuilding? No. They are here, they are good, and George Karl hasn't let them miss a beat. The reason that they are so successful is because Anthony is no longer ball stopping for isolations. Here's how I can prove that: they are #1 in the NBA in assists per game with no player averaging more than 6.7. That's impressive. Not to mention that they have six different players averaging double figures, and every player on the roster has a PER of over 11. Ruling: Legit
  • Utah Jazz: Another team that looks puzzling at first. The difference is that, upon investigation, Denver can be understood. Utah? I have to assume that this is a fluke. Sure, they have a super-productive frontcourt with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter, but who else is on the team? Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Gordon Hayward, Josh Howard, and Earl Watson are all playing more than 20 minutes per game on the perimeter. How long can this possibly last? Ruling: Overachievers
  • Los Angeles Lakers: Ah, here we go. The anti-Laker bias spree. Doesn't it seem like even constructive criticism automatically makes you a Laker hater? Well, unfortunately for me, that's where I'm headed. The simple fact is that a team that contends for a championship needs to at least have a decent offense (LAL is 21st in ppg), and the Lakers haven't figured it out on that end yet. New head coach Mike Brown seems to be running the same system he did in Cleveland: the 1-on-5 offense. But with the Cavs, he ran it with LeBron, who is a great passer. Not only is Kobe a worse distributor than James, but Bryant has Gasol and Bynum at his disposal, two all-star big men who aren't getting their touches this season as Kobe shoots more shots than he has in six years. Note: After their home loss to Indiana tonight, the Lakers fall to 10th place in the conference. Ruling: Underachievers
  • Dallas Mavericks: Ladies and Gentlemen, your defending NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, with an astounding record of... 10-7. Not so great. They've even played eight home games to nine road games, so the schedule won't be getting easier. Does that mean we should expect the same pace through the rest of the season, and a low playoff seed? Don't count on it. Three of their seven losses are by three points or less, and after a sluggish start Dallas is 9-3 in their last 12 games. Considering Dirk didn't play basketball over the summer, and the Mavs are still a very new team (newbies Delonte West, Vince Carter, and Lamar Odom in the rotation). Ruling: Underachievers, so far.