Nearing midseason, I thought it would be cool to take a look at each division of the NBA-beginning across the country in the Southwest Division of the Western Conference and working my way clockwise back around to our own Southeast Division. Along the way I will evaluate teams within each division and project their respective postseason potentials. First up, the Southwest Division of the Western Conference.
Teams in the Playoffs if the tournament began today (in order of their current standing): Spurs, Mavericks, and Hornets.
Team most likely to fall significantly from its current standing: San Antonio Spurs. It's hard to imagine the Spurs playing any better than they are right now. Peaking too early in a season is a real concern for any team. The general thinking is that if you play your best basketball before the All-Star break, two things are sure to happen: 1) You can't possibly maintain that level of play for 82 games in addition to the a possible 16 Playoff games, and 2) The rest of the Association will figure you out and gameplan well enough to beat you when it counts. The other concern if you're a Spurs fan is that your team is relatively old, and they won't likely remain a picture of health through June. On the other hand, because they have been so injury-ridden over the past three or so seasons, this may be the one year they can remain healthy all year. If that happens, watch out. Tim Duncan is resting his way through the season. He could be a monster come Playoff time.
Team most likely to fall completely out of the Playoff picture: New Orleans Hornets. In a way, I hope the Hornets prove me wrong, but they have two glaring problems staring them in the face: 1) They-like the Spurs-probably peaked too early in the season, and 2) The instability of being an NBA-owned team can't be a good thing. They were the last undefeated team, prompting everyone to ask: What's gotten into the Hornets? They have since tailed off. As long as Chris Paul remains healthy and in a Hornet uniform, they should at least make it to the second season (Yes, he's that good), but I just don't see them getting out of the First Round.
Team currently outside the Playoff picture that is most likely to be there by season's end: Memphis Grizzlies. It may have been more perception than reality, but the Grizzlies seemed to get off to a rough start this season. They are still very young, but they have approached improving their position in the Western Conference the right way. Their owner ponied up and kept his young core together. This is still likely not their year to breakthrough, but a solid blueprint is in place. If they are to make the Tournament this season, I wouldn't be surprised if they push the top seed out West to the limit in much the same way the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the Los Angeles Lakers in last year's Playoffs (remember they were only a defensive rebound at the end of Game 6 away from forcing a decisive Game 7?).
Team most likely to represent the Southwest Division in the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks. This picks does not mean that I actually think this team will be in the Finals. They are simply the team from the Southwest Division that I believe has the best chance to get there. That said, I actually do like the Mavericks chances. Caron Butler (although he is currently out with a knee injury) and Brendon Haywood will have been though a training camp and a full season as Mavs, and Tyson Chandler is finally looking like Tyson Chandler again. As crazy as it may seem for me to say this, Dirk Nowitzki's current injury may be a good thing for his team. How is that? I personally think Dirk wears down over the course of a season much the way Shaquille O'Neal did even when he was in his prime years. The rest he is now getting could pay off in the long run, and his being out plays into the Mavs not playing their best ball until at least after his return. An additional perk is that (especially with Butler out as well) someone else on the team will have to step up and produce. That can only help take pressure off Dirk when he does come back.
Well, that's my take on the Southwest Division. In you comments, feel free to argue, agree, or even point out something about this division that I left out. Also, I'd like to know if you think my idea on this is a good one. In other words, let me know if you want to read about the other five divisions-of course I'll be saving our division for last.