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Around the NBA: Figuring out the West, part 2

We continue our analysis of the Western Conference, one month into the season, with teams in the middle.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed the first part, check out our rundown of the Rockets, Warriors, Timberwolves, Spurs, and Trail Blazers here.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (10-7)

The middle part of the Western Conference is extremely crowded this season, with many teams hoping to break out into the next tier. The Trail Blazers should be happy with their start, and seem primed for a playoff spot in April.

Generally known as an offensive firepower, the Blazers are actually below average on that end so far this season. On the other hand, they have the third defense in the league, and tied for fifth best point differential in the league. They’re also rebounding the ball at an elite level.

Their defense will likely not remain top-tier, but things might click for this Blazers team. They’ve stayed under the radar for a while; their only big move was offloading Allen Crabbe’s contract. But I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them at fifth or sixth seed by the end of the year.

7. New Orleans Pelicans (9-8)

Both DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are amazing. Any concerns about their fit together have proved irrelevant, and they can often win games by putting the entire team on their backs. They’re a marvel to watch and

But their supporting cast is so obviously weak next to these two talents. Their struggles to space the floor and find third- and fourth-option scorers limit their ceiling dramatically. That said, their start to season has been decent, and they will have an advantage in the frontcourt against almost every team in the league.

8. Memphis Grizzlies (7-9)

The Grizzlies, after a hot start, have begun to cool. Led by stars Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have gotten surprising contributions from rookie Dillon Brooks and reclamation project Tyreke Evans. They play tough, sport a top-ten defense, and rarely turn the ball over. It’s the type of team that generally gives the Warriors trouble.

Despite their discipline, their lack of talent is sometimes apparent. Maybe Chandler Parsons returning to full health or JaMychal Green coming back from injury will improve the team, but it’s safe to say the ceiling of this team is not too high.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-9)

The Thunder have really struggled to integrate newcomers Paul George and Carmelo Anthony into their offense with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. Also, their bench is thin, and they’ve really struggled in crunch time.

But the Thunder strangely have the fifth best point differential in the league, and the fourth best net rating. They’ve won blowouts and lost close games so far. Expect them to begin winning games in the near future.

But the late-game execution and team chemistry can be real problems in the playoffs: they’ll need to get those issues sorted out completely to compete against the likes of Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio in a seven-game series.

10. Los Angeles Lakers (7-10)

The LA Lakers have had their fair share of ups and downs so far. This was always going to be a season primarily about developing young talent, and they’ve had mixed returns to this point. The emergence of Brandon Ingram and especially Kyle Kuzma has been a welcome surprise, but the Lonzo Ball’s lack of scoring and Julius Randle’s inconsistent minutes has been disappointing.

This team doesn’t look like it will show enough this season to attract LeBron James in the summer. Maybe Paul George will come over, but it looks like the Lakers’ revival may take some time.

We’ll take a look at the bottom of the Western Conference soon.

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