Poole's NBA Western Conference midseason team awards
State of the Warriors
Though the Warriors hit midseason holding the No. 6 playoff seed, precisely where they ended last season, they are comfortable with that and believe they are positioned to be appreciably better over the second half of the season. They are absolutely right. With a 26-17 record despite being nicked by key injuries while navigating the NBA's most demanding schedule, they should be pleased. Yet they haven't played well enough to earn the most coveted of the imaginary plaques we present. The Dubs get snubbed. In some instances, that's a good thing ... We present our Western Conference midseason team awards in 10 categories.
Best -- Spurs (32-10)
Do they have a must-go All-Star? PG Tony Parker is the catalyst, but SF Kawhi Leonard (who is out 3-4 weeks with a broken bone in his hand) is nearly as important and SG Marco Bellinelli often plays at All-Star level. PF Tim Duncan and SG Manu Ginobili keep ignoring their ages. With a terrific coach, Gregg Popovich, and a deep roster with a splendid blend of aptitude and attitude, this is a T-E-A-M. In a league where young legs thrive, they somehow remain lethal as ever.
Scariest -- Thunder (33-10)
Kevin Durant is the best offensive player in the game. Serge Ibaka defends as well as any big man in the game. OKC, which has made four consecutive playoff appearances, flopped last postseason after losing Russell Westbrook. They seem to have rectified that issue. They've beaten the Spurs three times.
Most improved -- Blazers (32-11)
Coming off a 33-49 last season, their big summer addition, C Robin Lopez, was primarily known as the "other" Lopez brother. They have stayed healthy, exploited a favorable schedule and served notice to the established elite. As we wait for them to tumble – as surely they will, at least a bit – they keep soaring.
Overrated -- Rockets (29-15)
This applies to the many who bought into Dwight Howard making Houston title contenders. It is not. The Rockets can be utterly dominating. They also can, and do, guzzle some maddening losses. The Rockets have learned what the rest of us knew: D-12 can create as many problems as he solves.
Underrated -- Suns (24-17)
In Phase One of a rebuild, Jeff Hornacek's Suns are contending for the playoffs. At least they were, before Eric Bledsoe's knee made other plans. Their best player, guard Goran Dragic, has All-Star potential. Hard to believe the Suns have beaten enough quality teams to scare them all.
Most exciting -- Warriors (26-17)
They've been down this road before, pouring in the points and thrilling the home crowd. But this is different. They've added defense to a team made for TV, from the wholesome-looking guards draining 3-pointers to the calming presence of the utterly elastic Andre Iguodala to David Lee's double-edged act – marvelous on offense, awful on defense – to the big, nasty Aussie center. The difference between the old Don Nelson Warriors and the Mark Jackson Warriors is they've added defense to the equation.
Worst luck -- Pelicans (16-25)
A dark-horse playoff candidate when the season began, they've had three of their top four players – Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday – miss significant time. Maybe there is voodoo in New Orleans.
Best luck -- Blazers
Not one starter missed one game through the first 12 weeks. Amazing in this achy, breaky season.
Chris Paul (G), Westbrook (G), Kobe Bryant (G/F), Andre Iguodala (G/F) and Marc Gasol (C) are the five best ballers forced by injury into designer outfits for at least 10 games.
My 12-man All-Star Team
Starters: Curry (G), James Harden (G), Durant (F), Kevin Love (F) and Aldridge (F/C). Reserves: Parker (G), Lillard (G) Monta Ellis (G), Blake Griffin (F), DeMarcus Cousins (C), Anthony Davis (C/F) and Howard (C). Last three out: PF Serge Ibaka, PG Mike Conley and SF Kawhi Leonard...