Nothin' but Net: West's new legit contenders

3:20 PM, Nov 15, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Two Western Conference teams had very good Wednesday nights.

The Memphis Grizzlies knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder, 107-97 in Oklahoma City.

Up next, the Los Angeles Clippers toppled the Miami Heat, 107-100.

On the same night, the two teams in last season's NBA Finals lost to the No. 4 and 5 seeds from those Western Conference playoffs.

The Grizzlies and Clippers announced themselves as legitimate contenders. Sure, the Spurs are spectacular, the Thunder will rumble again and the Lakers might get it together, but bolt the door -- these two squads are terrifying.

The Grizzlies have the best starting front line in the NBA. That's right, it's better than the Miami Heat's LeBron/Bosh/Battier and the Los Angeles Lakers' Howard/Gasol/World Peace.

The Memphis frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay combine for 51.5 ppg and 27.7 rpg. That's spectacular production and yes, it's better than both of the other mentioned frontcourts.

The Grizzlies rank in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring, opponents scoring, rebounding, assists, fewest turnovers and forced turnovers for their opponents. Head coach Lionel Hollins generally goes to four off his bench and that quartet is averaging a respectable 30.1 ppg.

That is a remarkably well-rounded team, statistically, anyway.

The results bare it out.

After a season-opening loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles, Memphis has won six straight. Perhaps even more impressive than the victory at Oklahoma City is that the Grizz beat the Heat by 18 on Sunday.

The OKC victory showed no letdown you see from some teams after a big game.

And if you watched the Grizzlies win over the Thunder, you saw something: a confidence bordering on swagger. Big brother looked like it had a hard time dealing with the harsh reality that little brother could finally easily win a fistfight.

It almost came down to one actually.

Marc Gasol sort of pushed the ball in Russell Westbrook's mug after Westbrook made a layup. Gasol got a technical and Randolph and Kendrick Perkins both got tossed after exchanging some words that were probably not about finding a good tailor. In fact, there were reports there was a fight after the game between the two.

Normally punkish moves are frowned upon. As a lifelong pacifist, this didn't bother me that much. These moves said, "we are for real and are done taking crap from anyone who says otherwise."

"We all had a high level tonight and it showed on the court," said Randolph.

It did and now Memphis can be taken seriously as a threat out west.

The Clippers were probably a little closer to legitimacy than the Grizz.

Most picked them as next in line after the Spurs, Thunder and Lakers. The roster is stacked and they improved their depth in the offseason with the additions of Jamal Crawford, Willie Green, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes.

The Clippers have already beaten the Heat, Spurs and Lakers early in this campaign. They are 6-2, but the numbers might be a tad misleading when it comes to L.A.'s best team.

They've played one game on the road. Technically, two, but when you play the team you share the building with, it's not a road game just because you don't wear the white jersey.

On Monday, they start a four-game road trip over six days that will see them tangle with the Spurs, Thunder, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks. That's high- noon for the Clip. Those are four teams headed to the playoffs.

The bench has been dominant, led by Crawford and his 20.5 ppg average. The non-starters contribute 41.8 ppg and don't sleep on the 1.4 Lamar Odom gives them. Apparently getting back to L.A. wasn't the key for Lamar and Khloe.

Think of this when you evaluate how good the Clippers are - their two losses were at home to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Those should've been two wins, but you can't sweep them all - unless you're the Knicks.

The Clippers are very good and are doing it without Blake Griffin at full- strength. His surgically-repaired knee is fine, it's just nagging stuff. At only 16.3 ppg, imagine if he gets back to his 20/10 game.

The Grizzlies and Clippers are contenders, but not the top ones. San Antonio is still the class of the West, but do you have faith in the Thunder without James Harden, and who knows what's going on with the Lakers?

Memphis and the Clippers will be potent forces this spring. They could even get to the Finals. They are absolutely that good.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- Turns out I was wrong about the Pacers being fine without Danny Granger. At 3-6, things are not going well and reports say Frank Vogel has lost his mind a few times at the Pacers. George Hill, David West and Paul George have been fine, although George hasn't progressed the way I thought he would. Anyone remember that Roy Hibbert was an All-Star last season? Does Roy Hibbert remember Roy Hibbert was an All-Star last season? In 2011-12, he averaged 12.8 ppg and 8.8 rpg. This season - 8.2 ppg and 7.9 rpg. That's ugly.

- Magic Johnson can say whatever he wants about the state of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Buss family. On Wednesday's episode of ESPN's "NBA Countdown," Johnson said, "I don't believe in Jim Buss." Magic's calling out of the Lakers executive vice president is appropriate given his status and has the added bonus of probably being accurate. The more you hear about the Mike D'Antoni hiring, the more you think it was about Buss, son of owner Dr. Jerry Buss, not wanting Jackson for non-basketball reasons. That's no way to run an organization.

- The Royce White situation with the Houston Rockets is sad. He suffers from anxiety issues and apparently didn't report to practices or Monday's game against the Heat. The Rockets sent him to the D-League and he's still not showing up. White's public battle against this affliction is commendable. He doesn't feel the Rockets are adequately helping him and his health is priority No. 1. However, the Rockets drafted him, paid him and were prepared to rely on him to some degree. Both sides of the argument are valid. The D-League would be great for him with the relaxed environment and lighter travel schedule (he's terrified to fly). Just doesn't seem like the NBA is a good place for him at this stage in White's life.

- Thursday's game between the undefeated New York Knicks and 7-1 San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio is required viewing. The Knicks are the league's best defensive team.

- The Detroit Pistons finally won and showed for all of the world to see that the Philadelphia 76ers are dreadful inside without Andrew Bynum. The Sixers said Bynum would be cleared to resume basketball activity in early December, but will get 1-to-4 weeks for conditioning. Free advice, make that closer to a week than four. He can't do anything for his conditioning now?

- Turns out I might have been wrong about the Milwaukee Bucks. They bring a lot of guys at you every night.

- Movie moment - I look past a lot of things in movies. I delve deeper. "Wedding Crashers" is fantastic, but I often wondered about Christopher Walken's Secretary Cleary's candidacy for the Presidency. Could he even run in this day and age? First, his mother is, to quote "30 Rock," "an Olympic-level racist." Secondly, his son is clearly not stable enough to handle the scrutiny of a Presidential campaign. And finally, his instincts are so poor that he let two drifters essentially live at his compound for a weekend because his youngest daughter met a boy. That's not Presidential.

- TV moment - "Boardwalk Empire" got cut this season from my regular viewing. I'm not interested in Margaret Schroeder or even Nucky Thompson anymore. I liked Arnold Rothstein, and Agent Van Alden and Al Capone. I miss the Commodore. Also, last season...well...there was a part of last season that was not cool.

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