The Golden State Warriors lost again last night. On Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns lost a game to the lowly Houston Rockets for the second time this month. JThe two wins represent 22.2% of the Rockets’ wins this season.
The Denver Nuggets have a firm grip on the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, but have struggled to string together enough wins to move into the top two. The Dallas Mavericks have a .500 record, the Los Angeles Clippers are healthy and the current four to seven seeds are all 12 or 13 losses.
In the Eastern Conference, there is two best teams — the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks, who are a clear level above everyone else. With the top 12 teams in the West only separated by seven games, some may think the conference lacks clarity. His the first two teams did not dominate in the same way.
Though talented and fiery, some may believe the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies are too young to be boldly declared the best. in the West. Neither team has one of the conference’s top three players on their roster – Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokić or Luka Dončić. The Pelicans and Grizzlies currently don’t have an MVP favorite on their rosters, but they’re tied for the best conference record. at 18-9.
It’s tempting to blame the start of the season injuries — as well as drama in Phoenix and Golden State — to explain the successes in Memphis and New Orleans to start the season. As the health of the Nuggets and Clippers continues to improve, maybe they’re off to a run. However, the same can also be said for the Grizzlies and Pelicans.
The Grizzly are deprived of their second top scorer since November 11. Desmond Bane is suffering from a big toe injury and is expected to miss another 3-4 weeks. Brandon Ingram is the Pelicans 2 goalscorer and also struggled with an ailing big toe that kept him out of the lineup for eight games, and he will be reassessed within a week.
Herb Jones—New Orleans‘ best defender – was on the pitch on Tuesday for the first time in three games. Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a mosquito net in defense for Memphis this season, but he has only played half of their matches.
Yet, through 25 games, not only the Pels and Grizz have the best record in the West, but both are NBA top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency. Jpelicans are among the top five.
It’s far too early to declare that Zion Williamson and Ja Morant are the No. 1 and No. 2 overall top picks selected in the same NBA draft, but early returns look promising. Until Thursday afternoon, Zion is on average 25 dots per game, and Morant at 27.7, as they are two of the most unstoppable forces in the paint in the entire league.
They are also both voluntary smugglers. The Pelicans don’t rely on Point Zion as much as they did in 2020-21, but this most powerful of power forwards is still averaging 4.3 assists per game. Even with Bane missing a month of action, Morant is still averaging 1.1 more assists per game than he did last season.
With health still a variable and a trade deadline looming, there’s no guarantee these two will remain at the top of the West. Maybe the Mavericks make a trade, and maybe Michael Porter Jr. is averaging 20 points per game on 50/40/90 shooting splits for the rest of the season when he returns from his heel injury. The Golden State Warriors are the defending champions and have beaten many of the league’s top teams. They are always on the lookout.
IIt will be a daunting task for the Pelicans and Grizzlies to stay atop the West, but they have the talent to do it. Their franchise players are rising stars in the NBA and play in offenses that don’t require them to carry an unnecessarily heavy burden. Moreover, both teams are young and focused on the defensive part of the ball. It’s a headache for any opponent who stays on their schedule.
And don’t forget, these are two teams that have taken a fair share of the punches in the playoffs. The Grizzlies had the Warriors on the ropes at times in their second-round streak last season. Against the 65-win Phoenix Suns, the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t have Willamson for a single game and still pushed them into a hard-fought six-game run. series.
Battle tested, improved and major contributors are still injured. Pelicans and grizzlies are for real, and expect them to battle for the top spot in the West all season.