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Around the League: A quarter of the way in, the league is shaping up

The NBA hits its 25 game mark and the contenders are starting to shape up (and the pretenders hide away). Who is shaping up to give the Warriors their biggest challenge? (SPOILER ALERT: it's the Spurs)

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA hits its 25 game game mark for many of the teams around the league. We officially have a large enough sample size to make reasonable long-term predictions about each of the conference powerhouses. Pundits can stop quick-taking hot teams that rushed out of the gates (Detroit & Dallas) and can get honest about teams that looked like pre-season darlings (the Bucks, and Pelicans). Certain squads are even starting to prepare for the annual rebuilding process as players are being put on the trading blocks (Markieff Morris over in Phoenix), with others frothing over the chance to pick up a franchise changer from a fading team (BOOGGGIIIEEEE!!!).

Here is the one thing we do know - the Warriors sit at the top of the hill looking down. The Champs have obviously made a statement by defending their crown with a clarity that resonated throughout the league. Which teams will try to rise to the challenge to dethrone them? We take a look at the top spots from both divisions, along with the teams we might already be able to write off for the season. Let's get to the breakdown!

The Western Conference

Team Record
Golden State Warriors 25-1
Those Damn Spurs 22-5
Durant + Russell & Change 18-8
The Clips 16-10

I think it's about time we be honest... the West is losing its touch. From a parity standpoint and overall success level, they are far off the domination shown last year. After you get past the top four seeds, the teams drop off quickly, with fading teams like Dallas and Memphis leading the way. Shocking - the Pelicans only have three more wins than the Lakers at this point. Oh how the might have fallen...

Side note: there isn't enough said about the wake that the Warriors leave after they have beat an opponent over the last year. Take the Pelicans - merciful sweep with heartbreakers thrown at them, and the team has fallen apart since. The Clippers - two huge losses so far this season, and now the roster hates each other and Doc is being called a failure. The Lakers - Warriors kill them and Kobe decides to retire. Memphis - not the same since we decided to not cover Tony Allen. Coincidence? I don't think so. We don't beat teams... we crush their soul.

The West will be a four-horse race all season as I think these top four trade top rankings all year long. Forget the Cavs on Christmas, the biggest matchups will be the Spurs head-to-heads starting in January. The question will be which team will still be healthy? Can the Spurs make it though another year keeping that roster intact?

The Thunder and Clippers are both teams that have good records, but have obvious flaws. Can OKC play enough consistent D to not have to outscore everyone? Can the Clippers stop generally being the Clippers long enough to keep winning? Both will be active at the deadline, and it's scary to think of what a solid wing could do for both teams.

Who can we cross off? Besides the Lakers, who were crossed off before the season started, we can officially cross the Pelicans off consideration for the year. They have already posted Ryan Anderson on the block for the rebuilding, and if he moves I'm guessing he won't be the only one. Poor Alvin Gentry - he forgot his defensive coordinator in Golden State (last in the league in DRating) and cannot keep his roster healthy. At what point do we have the honest conversation that Anthony Davis is unable to stay on the court consistently? Or that this roster is built around guys who were good five years ago?

The Eastern Conference

Team Record
The LeBrons 16-7
The Artists formerly known as Derrick Rose 15-8
PG13 and his Pacers 15-9

We say that the East has been a better division, as there are arguably more "solid" teams on the Eastern side than in the West. Only four games separate the Cavs at the top and the Knicks at the eleventh spot. This not only gives the Knicks ample credit, but also tells the fact that we still haven't seen the full Cavs roster. There are not a lot of "easy outs" on this side. Detroit and Orlando at the seventh and eighth spots are both young aggressive teams who can be world beaters on any given night, and you can't forget about Boston.

At the top of the heap, The Bulls are consistently trying to find their identity. With some form of Derrick Rose appearing nightly, they can look like serious threats to the Eastern crown one night, then look like a collection of sixth men the next. Fred Holberg has a challenge (that he will surely ace) to get his rotations set and his guys all pointing the same way. When they do, I picture the Bulls making a run at the Cavs all year. And, oh by the way, they have the assets AND the interest in Boogie Cousins.

The fun in the East will really be the 4-8 spots. At the top of this group, I love the Heat roster and think they will be fun every night they play. Young spry Dwayne Wade, the return of Chris Bosh, and the man child Hassan Whiteside scare the hell out of me in a seven game series. As the calendar turns to the new year, they are quickly approaching their annual crippling injury, but for now we all enjoy the ride.

Who can we cross off? Besides the Sixers who were crossed off before the season started, The Wizards look like they are quickly fading. Bradley Beal cannot stay on the court - but is young.. he has a few years before he takes his career leap. This team needs a trade and badly to rid itself of their aging front court in Gortat and Nene. John Wall will continue to keep the team relevant, when in reality they should take a swing at one more slight rebuild. Will they make a run back into contention? Possibly. But the match up so badly against the Eastern elite that they might want to realize mediocrity is not a fun place to be. Add them to the Nets and the Bucks as bottom teams quickly losing ground from the pack watching strong teams get stronger.

Final Thoughts

As the calendar turns over, so will NBA rosters. Now free agents from last summer are becoming trade-able again. Teams will have a hard look at their chances for the coming year, and start to consider what tanking could do for their chances to see Ben Simmons in their home unis. Squads like the Wolves and the Bucks have young talent they will keep throwing out nightly to help develop in preparation for years to come. Others like the Nets and Suns might have seen their windows slightly close, and now will be the subject of every rumor throughout the season.

All these storylines, all this early season drama, and we didn't even talk about the ROCKETS (haha James Hardenhaha Dwight Howard)!!! Well, there is only so much that can fit into one article, and we have a year's worth of Around the League reports to come. Until next time, let us all take a second to stare at another week that went by in our lives where the Warriors were the best team in the NBA... OH IT LOOKS SO PRETTY!!

(follow me on twitter @badiehard)

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