The NBA season is a week old and first impressions can often tell you a lot about a team. After a few games you get a feel for a team’s identity, or at least what they are wanting to be. Today I’m going to look at the Western Conference teams and go over my initial impressions. Because this is Funkhouser, it only makes sense to equate the impressions with something pop culture related so I have assigned a song to each team not only relevant to their current outlook, but also to their team. Before I go on, however, I would like to give a parting shout out to Grantland, the ESPN pop culture/sports site that was the brainchild of Bill Simmons. Last week, Grantland became another casualty of ESPN’s money saving moves. Now I will have to actually be productive at work rather than while away the hours reading a 50,000 word piece about Danny Trejo, the Iditarod, or one of Zach Lowe’s PhD dissertations on mathematical applications in basketball. To properly say farewell to Grantland I will make sure this post seems like a book. The site was great while it lasted, but in all reality, who really goes to a sports site to read about pop culture?
Dallas Mavericks: “Dark Horse”- Katy Perry
The Mavs will likely finish in the 6-8 seed area of Western Conference seeding, but a roster featuring Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Chandler Parsons, and Wesley Matthews is a handful for any team. In all honesty they’re still a player or two away from being real noisemakers in the West, but they could be a pretty big bump in the road for the West elite.
Denver Nuggets: “Counting the Days”- Goldfinger
A (likely) little known song for a (likely) little known team. Name more than two members of the Denver Nuggets. I came up with Emmanuel Mudiay and Kenneth Faried. That was it. The Nuggets killed Houston to start the season off, but Ottawa could probably beat the Rockets right now. It’s going to be a long season for Denver; however, if their front office and fans caught the UK game last night then they are probably excited about draft night.
Golden State Warriors: “The Warrior”- Scandal
Last year Golden State did indeed shoot at the walls of heartache and survived to claim the championship. They are sitting comfortably on their perch as the class of the NBA with impressive wins against the Pelicans and the Rockets. Steph Curry is still on fire from last year and is the obvious early favorite for MVP. These guys will be hard to stop.
Houston Rockets: “Rocket Man”- Elton John or William Shatner
The season got off to a horrible start for Houston. They can’t play defense, James Harden is not scoring like he usually does, and Dwight Howard is hurt. Coming off a loss in the Western Conference Finals last year, the Rockets were poised to make a run at the Warriors this season. Those plans are now on hold as Kevin McHale tries to figure out how to make this team work. If they get settled in they are talented enough to make a run, but I think it’s gonna be a long long time.
Los Angeles Clippers: “Run This Town”- Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kanye West
In a city with two teams there is always a battle for town support. The Clippers have enjoyed being the team the last few years, but this year they are fully entrenched as LA’s team and the expectations are high to contend for a title. The addition of Paul Pierce and return of Deandre Jordan give this team a lot of dangerous weapons on offense, but whether they can defend when it matters will determine how far they will go.
Los Angeles Lakers: “Iris”- Goo Goo Dolls
The Lakers are awful, just awful. The opening line of the chorus in “Iris” is “I don’t want the world to see me, because I don’t think that they’d understand.”. There are a lot of things about the Lakers I don’t understand, most notably how they ever let themselves sink their franchise to pay Kobe. The only reason I watch highlights of their games is to see Julius Randle. They are just a really bad team and are going to contend for most ping pong balls next summer.
Memphis Grizzlies: “All Shook Up”- Elvis Presley
The Grizzlies are what they are and have been for some time. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will bang around in the post while Mike Conley and Tony Allen patrol the perimeter and find shots. They opened up the season with a 30 point loss to Cleveland, but shaking up their starting lineup by benching Jeff Green has propelled the Grizzlies to two consecutive wins. They far from a finished product, but should be a solid top five Western Conference team once they settle in.
Minnesota Timberwolves: “Hungry Like the Wolf”- Duran Duran
The surprise of the NBA so far not named Detroit, Karl Anthony-Towns has the Timberwolves looking like the emerging playoff contender we’ve expected the last couple of years. This team is young, hungry, and playing with a huge burden of loss after the death of their coach and team president, Flip Saunders. The team features a ton of youth: KAT, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammed, Zach Levine, and Ricky Rubio. They also have quality backups like Kevin Garnett and Andre Miller. As of this writing they’ve played two games, and didn’t look overly dominating in either. They’ve shown enough promise though that if they stay hungry and focused (and healthy) they should be in the chase for a playoff spot.
New Orleans Pelicans: “Walking to New Orleans”- Fats Domino
Anthony Davis is in New Orleans to stay after signing an extension last summer with the Pelicans. Will he be able to carry the Pelicans into the upper echelon of the West? That remains to be seen and early indicators are not good for this year. Though Davis is playing like a future MVP, he isn’t getting much help. Injuries have slowed New Orleans’ start and two of their first three games were against Golden State which makes this team the toughest to get a read on. Once healthy the Pelicans should be in the playoff hunt. With OKC, Golden State, LAC, San Antonio, and Memphis looking like playoff locks early, the fight for the remaining three spots will be tough and New Orleans needs to get in the mix early to have a good shot.
Oklahoma City Thunder: “Thunderstruck”- AC/DC
Durant and Westbrook sure do look healthy again. Their struggles last year plus questions regarding Durant’s eventual free agency caused a haze of uncertainty to surround the Thunder this offseason. Add in a new coach making his first foray into the NBA and it seemed liked the Thunder were on a tight rope of “could be good, or could be bad”. They’ve started off on the right foot with a big opening night win over San Antonio along offensive explosions against Orlando and Denver. I’d say at this point they’re doing fine.
Phoenix Suns: “The Phoenix”- Fallout Boy
These aren’t the Mike D’Antoni 7 seconds or less Suns, but they’re close. They like to get up and and down and fire off shots quick. When they are hitting they can set the nets on fire, but that hasn’t been the case in the early goings. Currently they are ranked 9th in pace but only 23rd in offensive rating. Their defense has prevented them from shooting themselves out of games, but two wins against Portland and a loss to the Mavs show that there is still a lot for this team to learn. They are on the rise, but if their offense doesn’t take off soon they will probably fall hard.
Portland Trailblazers: “Into the Dark”- Death Cab for Cutie
Northwestern band Death Cab for Cutie has many bleak songs. “Into the Dark”, melancholy though it is, seems to perfectly sum up what Portland fans can expect this year. Portland won’t be the worst team this year and they won’t sniff a playoff spot. They’ll suffer in the purgatory of being the 8-12th worst team in which they’ll get a late lottery pick and still be stuck with Mason Plumlee and CJ McCollum as their second and third best players. Buckle up Portland fans, it’s going to be a dark ride.
Sacramento Kings: “Royals”- Lorde
I want the Kings to be good. With Boogie, Rondo, and Rudy Gay they should have a legitimate playoff chance. Unfortunately they have a mess of a front office, a head coach allegedly trying to dump Boogie, and nobody who can consistently hit threes. Boogie’s Achilles injury, though seemingly minor, is something to keep an eye on as any extended absence from him will sink the Kings’ season much like last year. Even with a healthy Cousins there looks to be too much dysfunction in the Kings organization which will keep them from actually becoming NBA royalty.
San Antonio: “You’re My Best Friend”- Queen
The trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker are the winningest trio in the NBA as of their win on Sunday. For the last decade these three have been one of the most dependable foundations in the NBA and the Spurs’ offseason additions seem to give the group at least one more good run to a potential title. The Spurs are championship caliber good, but they will struggle again with teams like Memphis, LAC, and OKC who have guards who can penetrate and disrupt their normally fluid defense. Seeding will be key for San Antonio this year to try to avoid any early round matchups with those types of teams.
Utah Jazz: “What a Wonderful World”- Louis Armstrong
Jazz great Louis Armstrong’s ballad of happiness is appropriate for Utah Jazz fans right now. They show signs of having a complete team, albeit pretty young. They play really good defense, don’t force things on offense, and they limit mistakes. They are talent deficient when compared to many other teams, but their discipline and fundamental approach show that they can beat any team any given night. Ultimately they will need to be able to score more to hang with the top six teams in the West, but they may find themselves on the outskirts of a playoff spot come March. Considering how the last couple of seasons in Utah have been, fans will be happy to see their team improving. Oh yeah.
Next week: The Eastern Conference, or, those other 15 teams playing for a spot to lose to the Western Conference winner.