The NBA Western Conference is absolutely stacked this year. The San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder are all off to strong starts while the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets are beginning to catch up. Let’s not forget, the Los Angeles Lakers just got back Kobe Bryant and there are a handful of other teams dealing with injuries, but have the potential to be contenders.
The balance of power in the Association has once again slanted toward the West.
Oklahoma City flexed its muscles a bit as they blew out the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, 116-100, but this victory has a flaw. The Grizzlies were down two key players and their absences really showed. Marc Gasol and Tony Allen missed yet another game. Gasol is recovering from a sprained MCL and Allen has a hip contusion. Both are crucial to the offensive and defensive production of Memphis.
Russel Westbrook terrorized the Grizzlies with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists. He went 7-of-12 from the field and shot perfectly from the charity stripe, going 11-of-11. If Allen had played, I’d expect him to guard Westbrook for some of the game and limit his production. Allen isn’t afraid to body up and get rough; after all, he did kick Chris Paul in the face.
The matchup between Serge Ibaka and Gasol would have been fun to watch. Ibaka has come out of his shell and is averaging a modest 15 points and 9.9 rebounds, but Gasol is a proven interior beast who will drop a shoulder into your chest.
This victory deserves an asterisk like Alex Rodriguez‘s career. Memphis is actually a good team trying to cope with some injuries. They can really cause some problems in the West and for the Thunder. The Grizzlies and Thunder will meet again in January and February. Allen should be healthy by the January matchup, but Gasol’s recovery period is unknown. I won’t rule him out of the January game, but he should be a guarantee for February.
Barring any other injuries to either team between now and then, those two matchups should be much better barometers.