The NBA's Western Conference is amazing. Only eight teams can make the playoffs, but it looks like 13 teams have a shot right now. To me the Lakers, Mavs, Nuggets, Suns, Spurs and Blazers look like playoff locks. Then Houston, Oklahoma City, Utah, New Orleans, Memphis and perhaps even Sacramento and the Los Angeles Clippers have a shot at the 7th and 8th spots.
Let's used Adjusted +/- player ratings to analyze each team. An Adjusted +/- rating of say +10 means that after adjusting for the strength of the other 9 players on the court, a player is 10 points better per 48 minutes than an average player. An offensive rating of +6 means a player makes his team score six more points per game than an average NBA offensive player. An adjusted +/- defensive rating of -5 means a player makes his team give up five less points per 48 minutes than an average NBA defender. Now let's use the lens of Adjusted +/- to analyze the 12 playoff contenders.
The key players are Bryant (+13 rating) and Artest (+9) rating. When both these guys play Lakers are 15 points better than average; rest of time Lakers are 8 points worse than average. The Lakers need a healthy Pau Gasol (he is much better than Bynum) to repeat and Derek Fisher (-7) needs to improve his play.
Dirk Nowitzki has been the NBA's best player (+24 rating) from Day 1. Marion (+7 points rating) has been a great addition. Barea (-10 rating) and Gooden (-18 rating) need to step up their play. Look for the Mavs to try and obtain a better center before the trade deadline.
Despite what you read about Carmelo Anthony (-1 rating) being an MVP candidate, Nene (+17 rating) and Birdman (+15 rating) have been the keys to the Nuggets success. Veterans Billups (-8 rating) and J.R. Smith (-9 rating) have played very poorly. If Smith and Billups don't step it up, the Nuggets will make an early playoff exit.
Frye (+13 rating) is having a great year. Steve Nash (+5 rating) is still great. Grant Hill (-11 rating) has slipped on both ends of the court.
Tim Duncan (+11 rating, -10 defense) is still great. Manu (+4 rating) is solid, but no longer dominant. Tony Parker (-4 rating) is having a sub-par year. Rookie Blair (+3 rating) has been great for a 2nd round pick.
Despite suffering a horrible run of injuries, this team is still a playoff threat. Miller (+12), Webster (+9), Roy (+6) and Blake (+6) have been great. Aldridge (-8 rating) has been a big disappointment. His -11 offensive rating shows the Blazers cannot score when Aldridge is on court.
They continue to hang in there without Yao. Scola, Landry and Andersen have keyed their success when the game is on the line. Ariza (-2 point rating) has been a disappointment.
In Kevin Durant's first two years in the NBA, he had a -7 point rating. This year, Durant has improved to a +18 rating! Westbrook (+6 rating) is an excellent guard and James Harden (+3 rating) is an underrated rookie. Jeff Green (-13 rating) has really hurt the Thunder.
Deron Williams (+9 rating) and AK47 (+6 rating) have been great. Little used Kyrylo Fesenko (+10 rating) should play much more. Carlos Boozer (-6 rating) has really hurt the Jazz.
Left for dead early in the season, the Hornets are now above .500 and back in the playoff hunt. Chris Paul (+6 rating) is still great. The big surprise is Devin Brown. His great play has really keyed the Hornet's resurgence. David West (-10 rating) has been disappointing, but rookie Marcus Thornton has been great in his limited PT.
The league's best front court of Marc Gasol (+15) Zach Randolph (+11) and Rudy Gay (+6) makes the Grizz a definite playoff threat,
Chris Kaman (+10 rating, -13 defense rating) has been great. Baron Davis (+5 rating) has been solid. If Gordon, Butler, Thornton and Ricky Davis can improve their horrible defense, the Clippers will be in the playoff hunt.
Underrated point guard Beno Udrih (+8 rating) is more of a key than highly touted rookie Tyreke Evans (-1 rating).
Every game is crucial in this playoff race. In a few days we will look at the NBA's Eastern Conference, where a .500 record makes you a lock to make the playoffs! In the West it might take 45 wins to make the playoffs.