NBA Midseason Report: Is the West Still the Best?

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It feels like only yesterday that we were preparing ourselves for the start of the 2015-16 NBA season. But it’s like they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” And boy are we ever. Now that it’s January 2016, the season has almost reached its halfway point. The 2016 NBA All-Star weekend — taking place in Toronto — is officially a month away, and we’re at the point in the year when the league’s best teams, the one’s most likely to challenge each other for NBA supremacy, have already begun to reveal themselves.

Unfortunately for those hoping to look at the league’s two conferences and see a shift in the status quo, the West is still in the driver’s seat. This doesn’t suggest that the Eastern Conference isn’t filled with talented teams. The Toronto Raptors (24-15), Chicago Bulls (22-14), Atlanta Hawks (23-15), and even the Miami Heat (22-16) continue to showcase their chops on a nightly basis. However, the fact remains, this conference belongs to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everyone is just fighting for second place.

At 26-9, the defending Eastern Conference champions — with the trio of James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love — look like the only team in the East that has what it takes to topple the best teams in the West. Cleveland is limiting the opposition to 95.1 points per game (2nd of 30) with an offensive rating of 108.2 (fourth of 30) and a defensive rating of 101.3 (fourth of 30). With numbers like this, you can make a case that the Cavs, playing at full strength, have the goods to bring a title back to Cleveland. We think that’s a fair assessment. However, even if this is the case, it’s just one team against the rest. And the best of the rest reside in the West.

Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs battles with Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors

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First and foremost, if you arranged the NBA teams in order of overall record, one monumental thing stands out: Four out of the top five squads are from the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Clippers come in at No. 5, boasting a 25-13 mark and winning nine straight games of their last 10. Coach Doc Rivers has a wealth of talent and experience at his disposal. With Chris Paul running the show and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan dominating on the inside, the team ranks in the top five in offensive rating (107.6, fifth of 30) and top 10 in defensive rating 103.8 (10th of 30).

The Oklahoma Thunder have what it takes to be among the most explosive teams in the NBA. While this may be Billy Donovan’s first year coaching at the game’s highest level, when you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at your disposal, it’s not surprising that you start the year off 26-12, hold the third spot out West, and own the fourth-best record in the NBA. As the second highest-scoring team in the league, at 108.9 points per game, the Thunder could easily catch up to the Cavaliers — the lone Eastern Conference squad — for the third-best record in the NBA. However, we don’t see them catching No. 2.

Say what you will about their age, but as long as they have Gregg Popovich on the sidelines, the San Antonio Spurs will continue to be among the NBA elite. With the addition of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and the further emergence of superstar Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs have stormed out of the gate to a 33-6 mark, a 22-0 record at home, and a league-leading 10 wins by 25 or more points. The way we see it, this group has the best chance out of any to dethrone the defending champs. Of course, with the way they’ve started the year, can anyone really catch the Golden State Warriors?

Seriously, anyone expecting Golden State to suffer a championship hangover must be completely stuffed after eating all that crow. While the Dubs’ defense may not be on the same level as last year’s team, with defending MVP Stephen Curry dropping 29.5 points per game and shooting 44.5% from behind the arc, the Warriors have the best offense in the league and currently sit at 36-2 on the year. Until further notice, the Dubs are the team to beat. And they’ve earned it.

The 2015-16 season is almost halfway over. And that’s crazy. However, if we look at it from a “glass half-full” perspective, it just means that we still have another half of an NBA season to enjoy. That’s still plenty of time for the teams in the Eastern Conference to gain some ground. Of course, given what we’ve seen saw far, it’ll be hard to bet against the West.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.go.com, ESPN Stats & Info, and NBA.com.