The depth in the Western Conference this season has been unprecedented as a 5th Seed Grizzlies vs a 6th Seed Warriors Final might be on the cards.[caption id="attachment_15989" align="aligncenter" width="607"] Photo Credit: Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal[/caption] Let's take you back to the start of the year. The top teams in the West were the reigning conference champs, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Followed hot on their heels by the strong San Antonio Spurs and the new and improved Los Angeles (Lakers and Clippers) teams. These were the obvious answers when someone asked you 'who's going to win the West this season?' A high percentage said the Thunder or the Lakers. Now move forward to the start of the Playoffs. The Thunder sealed the No. 1 Playoff spot, the Spurs No. 2 and the Clippers No. 4. One team had dropped off throughout the season and that was the injury riddled Lakers (a whole other story). Finally, we take you back to the present. Which four teams are left? That's right, two of them are still there: The Thunder and the Spurs. However, Russell Westbrook's knee injury has really hurt Oklahoma City's Semi Final chances, while the Spurs seem to be finding out what a cinderella story really means. Hang on, we haven't told you the other two teams still in the running for the West? Well this is where the peculiar part starts. Imagine the 5th seed Memphis Grizzlies going up against 6th seed Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Final. Notice how neither team was given a thought let alone a mention during the regular season? So let's take a look at where these guys have come from and who really has the best shot at taking themselves to the Finals.
Memphis Grizzlies (5th)Where They Came From: Last season was a major improvement for the Grizzlies as it put them on the radar as a team to really make some noise in the Post-Season. Finishing the season with a 41-25 record (only 66 games), good enough for fourth in the conference, the Grizzlies were upset in the first round to the L.A. Clippers in seven games. This forced them to make some serious management decisions which meant dropping O.J. Mayo. This Season: Many questions appeared in the Grizzlies camp when a major roster shake up occurred due to cap space. Rudy Gay was shipped to Toronto in the biggest mid-season deal this year and many thought that this would be the Grizzlies downfall. To Memphis' credit, they've shown the world that they made the right decision (56-26 record) and now have the roster to go toe-to-toe with the West's elite, as they are currently 2-1 up against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Defensive Player Of The Year: Marc Gasol anchored one of the best defensive team's in the league this season and was rewarded for his efforts. He was only one of six players to average 1.5 blocks and a steal per game as the he and the Grizzlies only allowed 88.7 points per game which ranked first in the competition. What makes Gasol so important to the Grizzlies is his point differential when he's on the floor (+7.5 when on the court compared to -3.9 when off). Under-rated: Michael Conley Jr. is one of the best point guards in the Post-Season however no one really gives him much praise. Averaging a career high in points this year (14.6ppg), along with 6.1apg and 2.2spg, Conley was just recently named part of the NBA All-Defensive 2nd team (the only accolade he has in the NBA).
Golden State Warriors (6th)Where They Came From: Last season was a horror season for the Warriors as they did not qualify for the Playoffs. With a 23-43 record, the 'Dubs' finished 13th in the West. The shining light from last season was the acquisition of sharp shooter Klay Thompson via the draft. The Warriors also had a major trade which heavily improved their side (mainly in the locker room) as Monta Ellis was shipped to Milwaukee and our own Andrew Bogut moved to Golden State. This created a better environment within the team as rumours had spread that Ellis was a real negative player to have in a team. This Season: Another great pick was used by Golden State as they scored Harrison Barnes with the seventh pick of the NBA draft. A much improved season by far (47-35) the Warriors showed that they could keep up with the major players in the NBA beating such teams as Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers. Cinderella Story?: The Dubs have gone on a roller-coaster in the Playoffs thus far. With nobody giving them any sort of chance against the Denver Nuggets in the first round, the Warriors shocked us all when they dispatched them in six games. The same goes for the second round as the series is currently tied at 2 against the Spurs, with games going to overtime and double overtime. They have been in every game so far even when they have lost (remember Game 1 where they blew a 16 point lead with four minutes left). Do they have the heart and luck to go all the way, thereby knocking off the Spurs? All-Star Snub: This one has become very, very obvious as one of the biggest snubs in recent years. Stephen Curry has been a nightmare for opposition teams as of late (and the majority of the second half of the season), as he averaged a career high 22.9 points per game and 6.9 assists per game this season. Not only did he have 54 at the Garden against the Knicks and 47 against the Lakers, Curry has had big numbers in the Playoffs too consisting of 30, 29, 31 and 44. In the ten Playoff games he's also hit double figures in assists three times.
Just let this sink in: Western Conference Final: Memphis Grizzlies vs Golden State Warriors. It's not happening yet, but it would certainly be a series to remember.