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The NBA's Westeros: The Landscape of the Southwest Division

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A game of thrones is at hand within the Southwest Division, the best and most competitive division within the best conference of the NBA. Who holds the strongest claim? SPOILER ALERT: Please be aware that critical information is revealed in this piece concerning the Game of Thrones series.

Game of Thrones in the Southwest Division
Game of Thrones in the Southwest Division
Andrew Millen

Some argue the geographical label it's been given.  If you question the validity of each Texas team being included, then you have to be utterly confused about New Orleans’ and Memphis’ involvement. Despite the deceiving nature of which area in North America this division covers, it currently has one defining characteristic – it’s hot…and no, I’m not referring to the temperature.

The Pacific owns two of the elite teams in the Western Conference.  Vivek Ranadive’s decision to promote Tyrone Corbin as a placeholder for his next head coach, as well as DeMarcus Cousins’s recent bout of viral meningitis, put the Sacramento Kings right back into mediocrity after their strong start under Mike Malone’s leadership.  Since the national sports media schedulers seem to see some sort of benefit in continuing to air Lakers games, I will save a little of your time by not mentioning the Lakers in any other sentence in this piece.

There is definitely one power team in the Northwest.  As long as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook stay healthy and manage their injuries well, then make that two power teams – it shouldn’t matter where the Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit in the standings.  As most NBA analysts have argued, you won’t find a single Western Conference playoff franchise which will try to position themselves to where they get to play them in the first round.  In fact, the opposite will occur and is already being debated.  The rest of this division is littered with lottery-bound hopefuls…hoping they get enough ping-pong balls in May to supplement their young rosters with even more young talent.

And finally, this brings me to the true Westeros of the Western Conference…the region that currently holds the hotbed of title-seekers…the area with the most players competing in this year’s game of thrones…the best division in the best conference.

A sense of urgency is omnipresent within its borders.  Roster moves have recently been made in rapid succession…potentially even in reaction to others’ moves.  And who knows if such sequences will cease?  Consecutive losses are perceived to spell trouble.  Every game seems vital.  An injury to a key player, especially at this point, may cost the team a postseason future.  It’s brutal right now.  Here is a current overview of the landscape:

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New Orleans Pelicans

Brian Babineau / Getty Images

Anthony Davis is the Khaleesi of the New Orleans community and franchise…actually, he just might even be the Khaleesi of the NBA someday.  Unfortunately, he has yet to meet his Drogo – even as much as Tyreke Evans wants and tries to be.  Better yet, Davis is still in search of any dragons who could help him wreak havoc on opponents.  He has to be Khaleesi, Drogo, the dragons, you name it…he is the biggest factor in the future of this whole organization, and Tom Benson, Dell Demps, and Monty Williams all know it.  Davis is fourth in the NBA in scoring (24.6 ppg) and tops in the league in blocks (3.03 bpg).  If the Pelicans are to be in playoff contention at the end of the season, Davis can’t play all of the most important parts simultaneously.  He needs assistance, support, rest, and long-term assurance.

A trade to make a playoff push is needed.  The following is a variation of a rumor that I have heard being floated around:

Joe Johnson would bring over his 16.5 ppg and clutch tendencies to a team that could definitely use them…especially a team lacking a true go-to scorer outside of Davis.  Again, Tyreke Evans wants and tries to be that player.  Ryan Anderson can provide some pop coming off the bench.  The above trade would relieve them of the scar that never heals in the form of Eric Gordon.  Losing Austin Rivers would not be a big loss…besides, he may like the idea of reuniting with Mason Plumlee, as they can reminisce about their Duke glory days.

Needless to say, Demps might need to make a visit to the Iron Bank to finish out Johnson's contract.  But, don’t totally overlook what they already have.  The Pelicans are serious about their claim to the Southwest throne.

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Dallas Mavericks

Michael Ainsworth / The Dallas Morning News

Although Dirk Nowitzki isn’t necessarily "The Truth", he is the stalwart of the Mavs in the way that Paul Pierce originally was for the Celtics.  Both hold special places in the hearts of those respective groups of fans, and each has a title on his resume.  You can’t leave either open from three-point territory, especially during crunch time, as everyone knows they are getting the ball at that point.  The age factor is keeping me from attempting to go into a Kevin Garnett-Tyson Chandler comparative point.  Ray Allen was the epitome of a curl-route, spot-up three-point specialist during his glory days in Boston.  But, this season, Monta Ellis has meant so much more to these Mavs, averaging 34 minutes per game and ranking eighth among NBA shooting guards with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 18.52.  The offense flows and runs through his ability to slash and finish at the rim, as well as eventually finding Dirk in the corner or Chandler Parsons on the wing for open threes.

Enter the common denominator of the 2008 Celtics and 2014 Mavs:  Rajon Rondo.  He is surrounded by veteran talent once again, and he finds himself now in a similar situation as the one that came together for him in 2008.  Will he re-discover the peak performances that provided triple-double potential on a nightly basis?  His resurrection opportunity has presented itself.  Was this bold move a desperate one by Mark Cuban?  There are arguments on either side as to whether the trade that sent Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, and Jameer Nelson to Boston was shortsighted and might prove to be detrimental into future years.  One thing, however, is for certain.  Cuban must see this division in a way that’s very familiar to him – a shark tank.  And he wants to stay in the show.  The Mavs are serious about their claim to the Southwest throne.

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Houston Rockets

Justin Ford / USA Today Sports

Speaking of bold moves, Houston wanted in on the action as well.  Kevin McHale grabbed a player familiar to him from his Minnesota coaching days in Corey Brewer, only giving up little-valued Troy Daniels and a few draft picks.  Then, Josh Smith, one of Dwight Howard’s best friends who had Howard as the best man in his wedding, decided he wanted to join the Rockets’ band of athletes.  Smith had a strong debut against the Grizzlies, putting up 21 points and 7 boards in an overtime victory.  Is that performance a sign of things to come?  How does that affect James Harden’s MVP-type statistics?  Isn’t Brewer just another Trevor Ariza who can actually run the floor…whether that involves dribbling or not dribbling the basketball…

McHale is the Stannis Baratheon of this ship, trying to mold quite a few personalities into a cohesive unit.  Who knows if the threat of Lionel Hollins as a rumored associate head coach/defensive assistant during the offseason was the motivation he needed to actually see the importance of that end of the court.  Maybe it was Harden’s re-dedication to the art – he has heard about that deficiency quite a bit, apparently.

But, honestly, I don’t think that extension really concerns Daryl Morey at this point in the season.  That’s the last thing on his mind now.  He is the red Melisandre, pulling the strings behind the whole operation.  Consequently, the art of "making a splash" is always at the forefront.  Hence, Josh Smith is in Houston.  Trust me, I’m not going down another "Big Three" road with a Houston spin-off.  However, I still think it’s important to consider how they got here.  Howard is tired of hearing about being a centerpiece for drama.  Harden is tired of hearing about his defensive inefficiencies.  Smith is ready to prove picking Detroit as a destination was a mistake.  The Rockets are serious about their claim to the Southwest throne.

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San Antonio Spurs

Soobum Im / USA Today

They currently sit seventh in the Western Conference standings…seventh…that’s not a typo…either time.  There is some chatter about the concept of "high-end tanking" by the top teams who are trying to avoid facing the Thunder in the first round.  Guess who’s getting overlooked yet again?  Chances are that they will finish higher than their current position.  But, what if that doesn’t happen?  Do you want your team playing the Spurs in the first round?

He might act like the Tywin Lannister of his basketball family, but Gregg Popovich doesn’t care about strategic-positioning knows playoffs are really about the matchup itself…and about giving his superstars plenty…and I mean, plenty… of rest over the course of the season.  Injuries to Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard have slowed them down a little.  They have already been through one of their toughest stretches within their schedule.  And two consecutive triple-overtime games won’t help much.  Did I mention that Gregg Popovich emphasizes rest?  Well, that’s a good thing for them this season…and every season.  Another difference between Pops and Tywin?  He actually has a great rapport with his players.

I don’t care where they are in the standings.  It doesn’t matter to me which prominent team, coach, analyst, media figure, or celebrity overlooks the team in San Antonio.  As long as the lights shine bright off of the golden dome at the peak of Manu Ginobli’s head, the Spurs are serious about their claim to the Southwest throne.

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Memphis Grizzlies

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images North America

Finally, we have reached the yellow Starburst…the green M&M’s…the marshmellows in that certain bowl of Lucky Charms.  The best has been saved for last.  You’ve been reading all about them right here on this site.  You’ve been hearing about how the window for a championship is open right now for the Grizzlies.

When you talk about trade speculation, Tayshaun Prince hasn’t received this much media action since his block on Reggie Miller’s layup.  Kosta Koufos’s name continues to be brought up.  I wish I earned a dollar for each time these two have been coupled together in some sort of trade on ESPN’s trade machine.  You can’t replace chemistry.  Once it’s gone…or damaged…or even altered in the slightest bit…it can make a big difference.  The team directly above can show, through their history and actions, the importance of chemistry.

They don’t need a television show comparison.  Their nicknames tell us the true story.  Marc Gasol is Big Spain.  Tony Allen is the Grindfather.  Zach Randolph is Z-Bo.  The city connects with and embraces this team’s Grit-N-Grind philosophy.  I don’t have a good Game of Thrones counterpart, but there is one family whom the Memphis Grizzlies don’t reflect – the Starks.  They are not going away anytime soon.  There is no "Red Wedding" in their future.  The Grizzlies are serious about their claim to the Southwest throne.

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Each claim has many barriers and obstacles in the way, including others’ own claims.  It’s unfortunate that we don’t have Bran and his three-eyed crow to help us foreshadow the future.  However, therein lies the beauty of this season.  Enjoy the journey to this season’s finale.