NBA’s Western Conference has six legitimate title contenders

Chris Paul and J.J. Redick combined for 66 points against Portland on Wednesday as the Clippers defeated the Trail Blazers, 126-122.
Chris Paul and J.J. Redick combined for 66 points against Portland on Wednesday as the Clippers defeated the Trail Blazers, 126-122.
(Don Ryan / Associated Press)

Anything could happen in the stockpiled, stockpiled West.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers likes to say that four very good teams will be disappointed after losing in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, but the sunny-side-up news is that six teams actually have a shot at winning the thing.

Sorry, Dallas and whoever emerges from the Oklahoma City-New Orleans tussle for the conference’s final playoff spot. The Mavericks aren’t scaring anyone besides chemistry experts who realize Rajon Rondo and this roster — any roster? — are a mix that requires protective gloves and inch-thick goggles.

The Thunder isn’t going anywhere except into another off-season of discontent with reigning most valuable player Kevin Durant and defensive whiz Serge Ibaka both sidelined by injuries.


The Pelicans? Please. They recently trailed the Lakers all the way into the second quarter.

That leaves six legitimate contenders for a conference title that should serve as a prelude to playing the presumed Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

The case for Golden State

The notion that the Warriors won’t go far because they are too reliant on jump shooting is as quaint as an early 20th Century bed and breakfast perched on a Napa Valley mountaintop.

This team has so much more to offer than the three-pointers of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Small forward Harrison Barnes is over his sophomore slump like a clingy old girlfriend and Draymond Green has become one of the game’s top young power forwards when he’s not busy tweaking the Clippers over one thing or another.

Golden State is so deep it can bring a pair of former All-Stars off the bench in Andre Iguodala and David Lee. And let’s not forget the Warriors took the Clippers to seven games in the first round last season without center Andrew Bogut, who is back to leading the NBA’s most efficient defense.

The stat that should scare the rest of the West: The Warriors are 53-7 this season in games Bogut has played.

The case for Houston

Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey loves advanced statistics, but you don’t need a degree from Caltech to know that James Harden’s primary value is scoring and Dwight Howard dominates with defense and rebounding.

Their presence alone will make the Rockets a tough out in any series. Houston has won all four games Howard has played since returning from knee swelling that sidelined him for two months, but the loss of point guard Patrick Beverley to a season-ending wrist injury is a big ouchie.

Fortunately for the Rockets, Harden loves operating with the ball in his hands and was already averaging more than twice as many assists as Beverley. Houston’s X-factors could be Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, starter-quality reserves who could swing a series in the Rockets’ favor.

The case for Memphis

There’s a bit more giddyap to the Grizzlies’ grit and grind these days. Memphis is averaging 98.6 points per game, up from 96.1 last season and 93.4 the season before that.

The Grizzlies still know how to distress teams and television ratings with their defense, giving up an average of only 95.4 points. A recent puzzling slide in which Memphis went 11-10 can largely be dismissed as late-season boredom after Marc Gasol put together an MVP-caliber start to help the Grizzlies win 21 of their first 25 games.

Now that newcomer Jeff Green finally seems to be integrated into the offense, Memphis is fairly close to being a complete team.

The case for the Clippers

It might seem insincere to tout a team that has never made it past the second round when history tells us that playoff success is usually incremental.

But these aren’t your father’s or even your older-by-30-seconds twin brother’s Clippers. They have largely shelved the inconsistency that plagued them earlier in the season and should get back star sixth man Jamal Crawford just in time for the playoffs.

What makes the Clippers even more dangerous is that they and the Warriors are the only teams to rank in the top six in offensive and defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, meaning they can beat teams on both sides of the ball.

Rivers can minimize the impact of his underwhelming second unit by giving spot minutes to a handful of players and benching the rest. And perhaps no NBA player will be more determined to make a deep playoff push than Chris Paul, the eight-time All-Star who has never made it past the second round.

The case for Portland

The Trail Blazers’ most valuable person might be General Manager Neil Olshey, who has continually made the kind of shrewd moves the Clippers have not been able to match since Olshey left the latter franchise for the former.

Olshey’s acquisition of shooting guard Arron Afflalo before the trade deadline gave Portland just the piece it needed to plug in when Wesley Matthews was lost for the season because of a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.

All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has somehow increased his production since he put off planned midseason surgery to repair a damaged ligament in his left thumb, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard has already become one of the game’s top closers in only his third NBA season.

The case for San Antonio

Been there, won that. No one else in the West has the recent history of the Spurs, who made winning look as easy as showing up last June in their Finals rout of the Miami Heat.

San Antonio understandably slogged through the season’s first four months after making back-to-back Finals appearances, but perhaps no one in the league has been as good over the last six weeks. The Spurs have won 16 of 19 games — with two of the defeats coming in overtime — to demonstrate they realize it’s go time.

Not even the prolonged struggles of Manu Ginobili seem to matter with reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard having become the fresh new face of the franchise. Coach Gregg Popovich is once again artfully blending his roster like his impossible-to-find Rock & Hammer pinot noir, perhaps in advance of another ending worth toasting.

Twitter: @latbbolch