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News » Signs of decline in the West

Signs of decline in the West

Signs of decline in the WestIt's more difficult to reach the playoffs in the Western Conference than it is in the East, where sub-.500 teams routinely make it.

That's the No. 1 argument against the Thunder possibly making the playoffs a year ahead of schedule.

Even if Oklahoma City shows dramatic improvement, the No. 8 seeds in the West over the past decade have averaged 45.4 wins, double Oklahoma City's win total last season.

"It's tough to judge with us," Nick Collison said. "We're a very talented team that could make a huge push. We're capable of it. With that being said, we're probably 25 games short from our record last year. That's a huge jump."

Phoenix won 48 games and didn't make it. Two years ago, Golden State won 50 and missed the playoffs.

But there are signs it might not take 45 wins.

The East no longer is a doormat after winning the inter-conference series for the first time in a decade by beating up on the West's bottom feeders.

Houston, without Yao Ming and Ron Artest, is in for a big fall.

The Suns' front office contemplated rebuilding last spring. Shaq is gone. Steve Nash is still special but is 35. Grant Hill is 37.

Amare Stoudemire has an eye injury on top of his surgically repaired knee. Robin Lopez, the projected starting center, might be sidelined into December.

What if the Suns struggle early? Does Phoenix revisit the rebuild-with-youth option and trade Stoudemire, who will be a free agent?

Seven teams in the West are viewed as playoff locks (Lakers, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Nuggets, Jazz and Hornets).

The two most vulnerable are the Jazz and Hornets, who can ill afford to have point guards Deron Williams or Chris Paul sidelined for an extended period.

Williams says his ankle still hurts a year later. Utah might trade Carlos Boozer. New Orleans owner George Shinn wants to shed payroll.

What if a 41-41 record is good enough? Can a young Thunder team improve that much after going 20-30 the final three-plus months?

"We're expecting to not get off to another bad start," Collison said. "As the season goes, anything can happen. It's hard to say we're going to be in the playoffs or not be in the playoffs. We do feel much better about our team. It's a process."

If a team surprises in the West, it's probably the Clippers or Warriors, not the Thunder .

But the West landscape could be changing. The Thunder probably isn't a viable playoff contender until 2010-11, but it might take fewer wins than you think.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 28, 2009


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