NBA West: Toughest conference in sports

NBA West: Toughest conference in sports
February 15, 2014, 2:15 pm
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James Harden's Rockets (36-17) are six games behind Kevin Durant's first-place Thunder (43-12). (USATSI)

NEW ORLEANS -- There will be a team, maybe two, that will have success in the regular season only to be shut out of the postseason.

There will be a few others that fail and still make the playoffs.

That's the way of today's NBA, where the West is by far the best and the East clearly is the least. This particularly challenging situation for the Warriors and other fringe playoff teams is widely acknowledged by the members of the Western Conference All-Star team this weekend.

"You have to be like five games over .500 -- and you still might not get in," said forward Anthony Davis, whose Pelicans -- 7 1/2 games out of the No. 8 spot -- have almost no chance.

"Just watching the games every night, you see how tough it is," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. "If you look at the eighth team in the West, their record is good enough for, what, third in the east? It’s definitely competitive, but we like it like that."

No, Blake, actually the ninth-place Western Conference team, the surging Grizzlies (29-23), would have the third-best record in the east.

[RELATED: NBA standings]

The top eight teams in the west at the break are, in order, the Thunder (42-12), the Spurs (38-15), the Rockets (36-17), the Clippers (37-18), the Trail Blazers (36-17), the Mavericks (32-22), the Suns (30-21) and the Warriors (31-22).

"We're right against it, right now," said forward Kevin Love, whose Timberwolves (25-28) are 10th in the West, six game out of the No. 8 spot.

"The Western Conference is unbelievable, really, with Dallas and Phoenix and Golden State in those last three spots. I could be wrong, off by one, but those are some unbelievable teams."

No, Kevin, you are exactly right. But, of course, it's all subject to nightly rearranging. With such fierce intra-conference competition, the only teams in the same place for more than a couple weeks are Oklahoma City and San Antonio at the top.

"There's no breaks," Spurs guard Tony Parker said. "No breaks."

Portland guard Damian Lillard said he doesn't follow the daily standings tangle. The Oakland native does, however, follow the Warriors and sees an opening.

"A team like Golden State is, I think, eighth right now," he said. "But they could go on a 10-game win streak and be in third."

Every so often proposals are forwarded in hopes of achieving greater postseason equality. Should the NBA keep the current format, with the top eight teams in each conference advancing to the playoffs? Or should it simply invite the top 16 teams?

"I would say, top 16 teams," Love said. "That's probably the way it should be because then you get the best teams in the league, no matter what division you're in or what conference you're in."

San Antonio's Parker paused for a moment before offering an answer.

"I like history and it's always been like that," he said of the current format. "So it would be weird if we changed.

"But why not? I don't really mind seeing if maybe we can try one year and see how it goes."

The Warriors certainly would not have minded in 2008, when they set an NBA record for most wins (48) without a playoff berth. The way things are going lately, they probably wouldn't mind it this season, either.