Southwest is ‘toughest’ and most ‘brutal’ division in NBA

As NBA teams were wrapping up the first week of training camp in early October, a starter for a Southwest Division team came away impressed with what he’d seen.

“We’re going to be a team that people are going to hate to face,” the player said. “And [we are going to] have a chance to be considered as one of the teams contending for a title.”

Who said it?

Memphis point guard Mike Conley. And he was right. The Grizzlies are roaring. At 15-2, they lead the Southwest Division entering tonight’s showdown against the 13-4 Houston Rockets.

In fact that quote could have been said by Houston’s James Harden. Or Dirk Nowitzki about his Dallas Mavericks. Or, of course, it could have been uttered by Tony Parker about the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs.

And if we were to ease up a bit on the latter part of Conley’s statement about contending for a title, it even could have even been Anthony Davis talking up his improved New Orleans Pelicans.

Top to bottom, the Southwest Division is a beast.

Easily the most rugged of the NBA’s six divisions and arguably the most competitive division in all of sports, with a hat tip to the SEC West. Mavericks small forward Chandler Parsons, who spent his first three seasons with Houston, says there is no argument.

“Best division in all of sports,” Parsons said. “So competitive and no room for error. Every night matters.”

The Mavs improved to 14-5 after Tuesday’s double-overtime win in Chicago. Pretty good, right? Well, technically Dallas, with a .737 winning percentage, occupies fourth place in the division, percentage points behind Houston and San Antonio, also 13-4. The Mavs would sit second in the Eastern Conference.

Four Southwest Division teams have won at least 13 games. No other division in either conference has more than one team with 13 wins.

Yet every division other than the Southwest has at least one team with 13 losses, five more than the 8-8 Pelicans, the Southwest’s last-place team

The Southwest’s cumulative record is 63-23, a winning percentage of .708, a higher percentage than every Eastern Conference team not located in Canada. New Orleans, which returned to .500 with Tuesday’s impressive win over Oklahoma City in Kevin Durant’s return, was 7-5 before a three-game losing streak on the heels of losing starting shooting guard Eric Gordon to injury.

The Pelicans a playoff team in the East, yet are in danger of already getting buried 4 1/2 games back of the Mavs in their own division.

Think these teams have gotten fat on weak Eastern Conference competition? Think again. Southwest teams have played 52 of their 86 total games (60 percent) against the West, going 36-16.

It’s the only division in which every team has a plus-.500 record against a Conference West in which eight teams already have double-digit victories.

Fortunately for the rest of the league, the Southwest Division does have to play each of its own four times, and it’s already proving problematic. Dallas, San Antonio and New Orleans are all 1-2 in intra-division games. Houston is 2-1. Only Memphis, at 2-0, remains unscathed.

And that could change soon. After tonight’s game at Houston, Memphis, winners of five in a row, welcomes San Antonio, winners of eight straight. The Mavs get their first crack at Memphis on Tuesday in Dallas.

“It’s brutal,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said of the division. “There are no games off in our division. It could be a war of attrition.”

Since last January when Grizzlies center Marc Gasol returned from a six-week injury absence, no team in the league has won more games. Last year the Grizz rallied from out of the playoff picture to win 50 games and finished seventh in the West. Today they’re tied with Golden State for the conference lead.

Mark your calendar, those two teams hook up on Dec. 16.

“We transformed ourselves back to our old Grizzlies team,” Conley said. “It took us a while, especially starting the [2013-14] season trying to implement a new offense, and with Marc being out for so long, we had to change the way we played for a little bit. Going into the end of the year we started finally playing our basketball. We fought our way back into the playoffs and feel like we’re still on the up-and-up.”

Expecting any team to duplicate a 15-2 record over the next 17 games would be dicey, yet if the Grizzlies can’t do it, they just might relinquish the division (and conference) lead because the rest of the Southwest might just get better.

Think about it. The Rockets are 13-4 despite Dwight Howard missing seven games, including the last six with a knee injury. Starting forward Terrence Jones hasn’t played since Nov. 3 and pesky starting point guard Patrick Beverley has missed 10 games over two different stints.

The Spurs are 13-4 even though starting center Tiago Splitter and backup point guard Patty Mills have yet to step on the floor. Three-point specialist Marco Belinelli has been available for just nine games.

Dallas is meshing three new starters and several new rotation players off the bench, and Raymond Felton still hasn’t played.

The Pelicans are adjusting yet to again to injury with Gordon going down, but Davis (25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, six steals and four blocks Tuesday against OKC) has established himself as a big-time star and the Pelicans as a tough out. Before moving back to .500 Tuesday, New Orleans was the league’s lone sub-.500 team to boast a positive point-differential.

So, yeah, the Southwest Division is a beast.

Source: MSN Sports

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