Best in the West? That's a title not given out lightly these days.
There's no such debate in the Eastern Conference, where the Heat have distanced themselves from the pack with a franchise-record 16-game winning streak, but the West is as competitive as it is cluttered. What was once viewed as a three-team race has now expanded to five with the inclusion of the Nuggets and Grizzlies, who have combined to go 13-1 over the past two weeks. Rather than try to predict which team will come out of the West in the playoffs, let's examine which one owns the most compelling argument for being the best team in the conference right now:
? The Spurs boast the NBA's best record and 20 victories in their last 23 games, but they will be without their best player for the next month.
? The Clippers are having no trouble with non-contenders, but they have lost to the Nuggets, Thunder, Spurs and Heat in recent weeks.
? The Nuggets have ripped off seven victories in a row and own the best home-court advantage in the league (27-3).
? And finally the Grizzlies and their No. 2-ranked defense continue to stifle opponents, leading to a 9-1 record in their last 10 games.
As you can see, not much separates these five contenders. In fact, all of them rank in the top six in winning percentage and adjusted net rating, an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions when factoring in strength of opponents. But the team that leads the league in that category -- and margin of victory, for that matter -- is the Thunder. Of the five Western contenders, Oklahoma City owns the best mark (6-4) against the other four conference rivals and currently poses the biggest threat in both the conference and the Finals.
With so much depth, the West is set up for an exciting stretch run and one of the most competitive postseasons in recent memory. After all, a team with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard might very well end up being the No. 8 seed.
With that in mind, here's where all 30 teams rank in this week's Power Rankings, which are led by the Heat for the fourth consecutive week.