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Well, maybe not WIDE open, but I'm starting to think that, for the first time in years, any number of teams might actually win the West. When it was announced that Shaq was being traded to the Heat, I went ahead and filled in the portion of the WC brackets showing the Spurs on top. And the collapse of the Timberwolves on really solified that opinion. They seemed to me to be the only top level team in the West that was really built for the playoffs. But things is a-changin.
The last time (if I remember correctly) that the Spurs were out in the first round was the last time that Duncan had a serious injury. It was the 2000 season, and the Spurs were fresh off their first Championship. But Timmy went down with an ankle problem, and the Spurs couldn't handle the Suns (led by Jason Kidd). I've heard everything from Duncan could be back before the playoffs to he might miss the first round. Well, the Spurs have shown pretty definitively that they need Duncan to win. They can pick off lotto teams without him, but right now they are set to play Denver, the team that blew them out of the water last night. Even if Duncan comes back for the playoffs, there's no guarantee that he or the team is going to be able to pick up where they left off.
Who else could win the thing?
I've mostly discounted Phoenix, Seattle, and Dallas becuase I never thought that they could win a playoff series against the Spurs. But if the Spurs falter?
Phoenix. Why not? Well, they're young and untested in the playoffs. They have the best record in the league, but the last few years have seen team after younger team rack up the best record only to be layed low by the veteran team who had been saving a little something for the playoffs. Even so, it wouldn't be a surprise to find them in the WCF if Nash stays healthy (ah, NOW I remember why Dallas give him max bucks...he's always on his last legs nearing the playoffs).
Seattle? I doubt it. Their strong start has mostly faded. And at the end of the day, they just don't have the juice for the playoffs.
Dallas. Weird as it sounds, if the Spurs implode, they're my pick. They've got star power, experience, and an improved defense. Granted, they're still a score-first kind of team, but if without the Spurs, isn't everyone in the West these days?
But even Houston has to have a shot. They're improving day by day, and the way things are shaping up out West, it could be anyone's conference.