May 31, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the fourth quarter in game six of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Swarm and Sting round-table: West

Everyone is counting down the days until the 2014-2015 NBA season. Especially the fans in Charlotte. We cannot wait to see the return of the Charlotte Hornets, a day that some fans have been waiting on for a long time.

We have talked a lot about what the Hornets might face in the Eastern Conference, but we haven’t spent a lot of time talking about the Western Conference. So we decided to do a round-table on the West.

Participating in this round-table is Swarm and Sting’s Reece Helms, Brandon Bevil, and Tyler Adams. Here are the questions and answers:

1. With Kevin Love joining LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, does that make the Cavaliers the best team in the NBA? Or is there a team in the West that is still superior to Cleveland?

Reece Helms - Having LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving makes the Cavaliers the best team on NBA 2K15, but I’m not ready to say they are the best all-around team in the NBA quite yet. Does anyone remember this year’s NBA Finals? The San Antonio Spurs are still the team to beat. Cleveland might have a similar year the Miami Heat had in their first year with LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. They may struggle at first, but it takes time to gel. I believe they will meet the Spurs in the Finals, and that will be one heck of a series.

Brandon Bevil - I’m not crowning them yet, not when San Antonio, OKC, and Chicago are still healthy. The Clippers might be better also if they can focus on basketball. Let’s not forget that two of Cleveland’s reported big three have never played in a playoff game, and there are serious questions about the Cavs’ defense. It took one of the great shots in NBA history to keep the Spurs down 2 years ago, so they are close to going for a three-peat this year. Cleveland is only good on paper at this point.

Tyler Adams - The additions definitely make the Cavs the favorite in the East. However, time will tell how well they hold up on the defensive end. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have gained reputations as defensive liabilities. That could prove fatal against the sharpshooting opponents in the West. A team like the Mavs, who are an experienced team and third in offensive rating last season, could provide a real headache for the Cavs.

2. It seems that every year we say that the Spurs are too old, are they finally too old this year? Or do they have a lot of basketball left in the tank?

Reece Helms - The San Antonio Spurs are probably one of the most under-appreciated teams in all of sports. Partly because they are “boring.” How are they boring? Is playing good team basketball boring? Is winning boring? I don’t get it.  Every year they have a great team that does deep into the playoffs, and that will not change this year.

Brandon Bevil - No more doubting the Spurs until they show a reason to doubt them. No one is better than Popovich at managing minutes to keep guys fresh for the the playoffs, and it appears their offense can hit a gear no other team can match. Kawhi Leonard is only getting better, and none of their top four players are playing in the FIBA World Cup this year which means they can rest this offseason. I think the Spurs have 1-2 more years of top level play before Duncan and Ginobili leave the keys with Kawhi. And they may have even reloaded by then.

Tyler Adams - Never count out the Spurs. Never. They are smart with their roster management and always play to win. Of course, it always helps having a Hall of Famer and a couple of All-Stars. But what really keeps them ready for the post-season is Gregg Popovich’s strategic resting. As long as they keep finding the right guys for the system, they’ll keep winning.

3. What are your expectations for OKC this year? Do they finally get over the hump and defeat the Spurs? 

Reece Helms - It all depends on injuries. Injuries have killed OKC in the playoffs the past two seasons. If Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka stay healthy then OKC has a chance. The Spurs are just too good right now, just ask the Miami Heat. Right now I still say the Spurs are the best in the West, sorry Kevin Durant.

Brandon Bevil - OKC is still the number 1 contender to the Spurs, but it’s going to take a few changes. Durant stepping away from Team USA is a huge blow for the national team, but it was the right decision if his main goal is getting a championship. Scott Brooks has to do a better job of managing Durant and Westbrook’s minutes, and he needs to get the younger players ready to contribute for the playoffs. No reason Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones can’t give them some meaningful minutes next May/June.

Tyler Adams - With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they’ll be in the playoff mix. OKC has made few changes in the offseason that makes me believe they will improve. They lost defensive stoutness by trading Thabo Sefolosha. It’s great that they continue to bring young players to develop. However, the early growing pains means that the team will have to continue to rely on Durant. I suspect that OKC will make it back to the Western Conference Finals.

4. Last year it wasn’t even funny how much better the West was than the East, is it still like that? Or has the East improved over the off-season?

Reece Helms - The East definitely got better, but that isn’t saying much. Last year it was the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, and then there was everybody else. No one really came close to them. Next year Cleveland and Chicago will likely be the top 2 teams instead of Miami and Indiana. The Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards improved, and the Miami Heat still look to contend despite losing LeBron. The East got better, but the West is still the superior conference.

Brandon Bevil - The gap is closing but the East isn’t there yet. Seven of the Eastern teams can realistically expect to be better.  Indiana may not make the playoffs, Miami and Brooklyn will slip, and Toronto is basically the same team as last season. The West will have at least 11 teams competing for the playoffs. A hypothetical power ranking of next season will still have 5 of the top 7 teams out West.

Tyler Adams - The West is still better, but the East is more interesting now. Teams like Philadelphia and Orlando are still not ready to compete. Outside of that, it’s wide open. Miami has been disassembled and Indiana is deflated. Teams that have spent the last few years building like Washington, Toronto and Charlotte now have a golden opportunity.

5. Right now, who are your 8 playoff teams in the West? And in what order?

Reece Helms - 1. Spurs, 2. OKC 3. Clippers 4. Portland 5. Rockets 6. Golden State 7. Mavericks 8. Phoenix

Brandon Bevil - 1. San Antonio  2. OKC  3. Golden State  4. LAC  5. Dallas  6. Phoenix  7. Memphis  8. New Orleans (that’s right)

Tyler Adams - 1. Spurs  2. OKC  3. Clippers  4. Rockets  5. Warriors 6. Mavs 7.  Blazers 8. Grizzlies

 

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Tags: Charlotte Hornets Cleveland Cavaliers Oklahoma City Thunder San Antonio Spurs

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