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Article Teaser: At the beginning of 2009, the Western Conference has it all: a very dominant team, parity and a lot of NBA Lottery contestants. As the season creeps towards the mid-way point, the Lakers hope to stay consistent and healthy, while the contenders hope to position themselves for a post All-Star-break run into the playoffs.

Keep reading below...

The NBA's Western Conference at the Start of '09

Copyright (c) 2009-2017

At the beginning of 2009, the Western Conference has it all: a very dominant team, parity and a lot of NBA Lottery contestants.

The defending conference champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, have a five game lead. Teams #2 through #9 are separated by only two-and-a-half games.

The remaining six teams are at least 12 games under .500.

As the season creeps towards the mid-way point, the Lakers hope to stay consistent and healthy, while the contenders hope to position themselves for a post All-Star-break run into the playoffs.

The Pacific Division

At 25-5, the Lakers are off to their best start since 1999-2000, a year they won the NBA Title.

The lone downside to their start, with the exception of New Orleans (28), is that no Western Conference team has played fewer games than the Lakers. Meaning L.A. will have more opportunities than others clubs to lose.

Of course, it won't be easier for the Lakers to rack up a lot of losses, not the way they can score.

The Lakers lead the league in scoring, averaging 107.3 points a game. Kobe Byrant is third in the NBA in scoring with just over 26 points per game. He's also shooting an impressive 47.3 percent from the field.

The Lakers are deep and talented. And they have a great mix of youth (Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza) and veterans (Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom).

Looking up at the Lakers is the rapidly aging, and increasingly surly, Phoenix Suns.

New head coach Terry Porter has been given the unenviable task of bringing an identity to a team that has both Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal-two great players with radically different playing styles.

After a shaky start to the season, Shaq has been playing better. Over his last eight games, O'Neal is averaging 23.3 points.

The Suns' schedule has been brutal, so an 18-12 record isn't all that bad.

A team with Nash, Shaq, Richardson, Stoudemire and veteran Grant Hill should make the playoffs.

But age, health and Stoudemire's anger management issues will probably prohibit the Suns from seriously challenging for the title.

While the Warriors' problems stem from personnel, the Clippers have some good players.

Point guard Baron Davis, shooting guard Eric Gordon, small forward Al Thornton, power forward Zach Randolph and center Marcus Camby are a formidable starting five (when they are healthy).

The Clippers' problem is they can't shoot. Both Davis and Thornton are in major shooting slumps and the team is closing in on the franchise record for worst field-goal shooting percentage in a season.

Not surprisingly, the Clippers are 28th in points per game, next-to-last in three-point field-goal percentage and 26th in free-throw percentage.

The Clippers run a predictable offense that relies heavily on isolation plays. Players seldom cut without the ball and they are also one of the worst screening teams in the West.

To salvage this season, Davis needs to reenergize his game and Randolph, out a couple of weeks with a dislocated shoulder, needs to return to help the Clippers get easy/open looks on pick and rolls, and pick and pops.

Even if all that happens, look for the Clippers to be nothing more than spoilers for teams trying to make the playoffs.

The Sacramento Kings' best player, Kevin Martin, has already missed 22 games this season due to injury. Entering January, he finally seems healthy and ready to play.

They are one of the league's worst defensive team, allowing over 105 points a game and the Kings are the worst team in point differential, with nearly a minus 10-point difference between their score and their opponents'.

Amazingly, the Kings have eight wins, but don't look for that number to get much larger. This is a team preparing for the draft lottery.

The Northwest Division

Earlier this season, the Denver Nuggets made headlines when they traded Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons for point guard, and Denver native, Chauncey Billups.

Since Billups joined the club, the Nuggets have gone 20-9. The Nuggets are also good at home, they've started the season 11-4 in Colorado.

The Nuggets play an ugly style basketball except for Carmello Anthony. Mello may be the most complete offensive player in the game today.

Denver's bench isn't very good, but their starting five (including center Nene, who is having the best year of his career) should be enough to win this division-especially with the Blazers experiencing growing pains and the Jazz just experiencing pains.

The Portland Trailblazers have just everything you need in a team.

They have a superstar and clutch shooter in Brandon Roy and they have another big-time scorer in LaMarcus Aldridge.

They have size and strength in centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla.

And they have depth with Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw coming off the bench.

However, the Blazers need to be more consistent on defense. This young team can score, but they allow too many open looks and too many easy buckets.

If, or when, Portland realizes they need to play championship caliber defense all-the-time, the West will be there's for the taking.

Before the season started, the Utah Jazz were the obvious pick to win the Pacific division-after all, they've won the last two Northwest Division titles.

A third title in-a-row seems nearly impossible now that the Jazz have been ravaged by injuries.

Guard C.J. Miles is the only Jazz player to have logged minutes in every game this season.

Despite the injuries, the Jazz have battled to a 19-14 record. Jerry Sloan has done a tremendous job keeping his team competitive and the Jazz have the good fortunate of having the league's 6th easiest schedule.

Even if the Jazz get healthy, landing that 8th playoff spot will be difficult. They are an awful road team, currently 7-10 away from Salt Lake City, and the hard part of the schedule is still to come.

While the Blazers and the Nuggets are catchable, the Jazz maybe the good Western Conference team that doesn't make the playoffs.

It will be a long year for the T-Wolves and unless they show significant improvement, it will also be McHale's last season as their employee.

As bad as it is for the T-Wolves at least they're not in last place. That distinction falls to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In the month of December, Kevin Durant averaged 25.6 points and 7.5 boards. He shot a respectable 48 percent from the field and 45 percent from behind the arc.

His performance was good enough to lead his team to a 1-12 record for the month.

In total, you can count all the Thunder's wins on one hand (4) and still have a digit left over to show your feelings towards owner Clay Bennett.

Chances are the Thunder won't win enough games to fill up two hands. In fact, they may make more trades than wins.

The Southwest Division

This year Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets hope to improve on last year's team that finished 56-26 and lost to the Spurs in the conference semi-finals.

Last season, the Hornets started 18-10. This year they started 19-9. That's good, but what's cause for concern is the Hornets are 7-6 against teams that made the playoffs last season.

The first month of 2009 will play a large part in whether or not the Hornets can surpass their 2007-2008 results. The Hornets play 16 games in the month of January (nine of those on the road) including four sets of back-to-back games.

If the Hornets can escape January with 10 or more wins, look for them to repeat as Southwest Division champs.

Even the name San Antonio Spurs sounds old.

Age has definitely made the Spurs more vulnerable than they've ever been under Gregg Popovich, but it's only January.

Is this team even out of hibernation?

Spurs don't even start caring about basketball until March.

Despite suffering injuries (at various points of the season) to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Spurs have still managed to post a 20-11 mark.

The Spurs lost Brent Barry and Robert Horry from last year's squad, but newcomer Roger Mason and rookie George Hill have been productive and nice additions to the team.

The stars are still shining, Parker is averaging 22 points and 6 assists a game, while Tim Duncan is averaging a double-double a game-20.7 points and 10.3 rebound.

Like you would expect from a veteran team, the Spurs know how to win close ball games. San Antonio is 10-3 in games decided by six points or less, or games decided in overtime-they've already won their three double-overtime games.

Staying in Texas, the Houston Rockets are reminiscent of another team from the Lone Star state that plays a different sport. The Rockets, like those "Boys" of winter, can win some games but when it comes down to crunch time, they scare no one.

Yes, the addition of Ron Artest is a good one. But even if he's Mother Teresa off the court, he's not going to lead the Rockets to the second round of the playoffs by himself-you know after Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady go down with injuries.

McGrady, after a meeting with head coach Rick Adelman and general manager Daryl Morey, said he won't be playing in the second of back-to-back games.

Seriously?

T-Mac isn't even 30-years old and he's already taking games off?

Sure, the Rockets will win some games, make the playoffs and show a few signs of being a legitimate contender, but eventually they will wilt.

You don't have to be a Dallas Mavericks fan to be sick of hearing about how they shouldn't have traded Devin Harris to the New Jersey Nets for Jason Kidd.

We get it!

Harris is tearing it up in Jersey and Kidd is playing out the twilight of his career before going to hall of the fame.

As you might imagine, Dirk Nowitzki is a large part of why the Mavs are now headed in the right direction, but some credit should go to reserve guard Jason Terry. He's the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year and is averaging over 21 points per game.

Forward Josh Howard is finally healthy-a sprained left wrist followed by sprained left ankle cost him 11 games.

Guard Jason Terry has been critical of his defense this season (when was the last time you heard a NBA player say that). His tenacious D was part of the reason the Mavs were able to come back and defeat the Timberwolves after falling behind 62-40 at halftime.

Jason Kidd may not be averaging 23 points like Devin Harris, but he still knows how to ball. Kidd is averaging 8.6 assists, 2.6 steals and 6.5 rebounds a game, while turning over the rock less than two-and-half times a game. That's solid production.

The Mavs are a good team and they are much better than their 19-12 record indicates.

Can someone please put the Memphis Grizzles on television? I want to see O.J. Mayo play.

Can't TNT broadcast one of his games or do they have to air the dozen Tyler Perry sitcoms?

The rookie guard from USC is averaging 20 points a game. He leads his team in scoring and turnovers. He's second in steals and third in assists.

Speaking of assists, the Grizzlies are the only team in the league that doesn't record assists on at least half of their field goals.

This type of selfish play is started to wear on head coach Marc Iavaroni. If it continues, it may cost Iavaroni his job.

Recently, Iavaroni received the kiss of death from his owner, Michael Heisley, who publically stated he's solidly behind his head coach.

That's never a good sign for a coach.

If the Grizz can keep Mayo, Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur and Rudy Gay together, they may have a future.

Conclusion

The Los Angeles Lakers should win this conference and return to the NBA Finals. If they somehow fail to play defense at a championship-level, a slew of teams are ready to pounce and make a move.

The Spurs are probably saving their energy for one last championship run; remember they know how to win.

The Hornets are hungry and in their prime; when it's all said and done, Chris Paul will be listed as one of the all-time greats.

The Mavs may sneak up and surprise a lot of teams; too many basketball fans are talking about the Kidd-Harris trade and not their solid play.

Denver, Portland, Phoenix and Utah are long shots to catch the Lakers, but they are more than capable of winning a serious or two in the postseason.

To highlight the depth of the Western Conference, one of the following teams will be in the NBA lottery: New Orleans, San Antonio, Denver, Portland, Dallas, Phoenix and Utah.

The Western Conference is tough.




About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
Ryan Hogan is a writer for Basketball Central and is an avid NBA fan too. Read an expanded version of this NBA Western Conference article here. If you're a basketball fan as well, visit http://www.bballcentral.com for articles, a basketball forum and a wallpaper gallery.

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Playing Golf - Pain or Pleasure?
Written by: Claus Jensen | Distributed: 2009-01-21 | Word Count: 709 | Page Views: 2115 | Votes: 7 | Rating: 3.29
I turned to golf when my knees had had enough of soccer and all its unpredictable injuries. So here I am, an amateur golfer with a handicap of 22, and stuck at that level for quite some time now. That explains the title of this article! I have learned that there are three key elements to help one perform well on the golf course. Read on as I discuss each one.

What Is A Ticket Broker, and Can They Really Help Me Get Playoff Tickets?
Written by: Triston Nielder | Distributed: 2007-06-18 | Word Count: 799 | Page Views: 3802 | Votes: 8 | Rating: 3.25
If you've ever tried to get sports tickets, concert tickets or theatre tickets, only to find them sold out five minutes after they went on sale, then you may need to locate a ticket broker.












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Internal ID: #6553
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Word Count: 2137

Total Views: 2082

Article Rating: 1.20 of 5
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Last Distribution Date:
2009-02-26 11:12:00






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