NBA's Northwest Division Has Lost Its Luster: Fan Take - Yahoo! Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder were playing in the brutal Northwest Division a month ago. Four of five teams were in the top eight of the Western Conference standings in mid-January. Now the place has cooled off a bit and the Thunder have some breathing room. OKC is 25-7 and owns a 7 ½ game lead over the Denver Nuggets. The Portland Trail Blazers are a game further back. Both the Minnesota Timberwolvers and Utah Jazz are separated by a tenth of a percentage point at the bottom of the heap, 9 ½ games behind OKC.

Now, only Denver sneaks into the NBA playoffs as an eight seed if the postseason were to start today. What happened to the vaunted Northwest Division teams?

Since Jan. 18 when the Thunder lost to the lowly Washington Wizards, they've had only five losses. Denver had lost 10 games since Jan. 29 and has a 4-10 record in that span. Portland is 5-8 since Jan. 30 after starting the season strong. Minnesota has gone 7-7 since Jan. 29, which was an improvement for them after a horrible start.

The team that has fallen the most is perhaps the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have a 5-11 record since Jan. 25. Teams that were bunched together behind the Thunder used to be just two or three games back. Now they have fallen further behind while Oklahoma City keeps winning.

The brutally compact NBA season may be partially to blame. Even the Thunder aren't immune to injuries as key bench players have been hurt lately. James Harden and Nick Collison are nursing injuries, added to Thabo Sefolosha and Lazar Howard. There are only 10 healthy players right now and the starters are having to play more minutes.

The important thing to remember is that every NBA team is equally yoked. The Thunder lead the Northwest Division because they are young and have some great scorers. Bench players have contributed to each game, but with injuries there will be other bench players that will have to step up while there are hurt players piling up.

William Browning has been a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder ever since the team relocated from Seattle. As the closest NBA team to Branson, Mo., the Thunder serve as the regional team for southwest Missouri.

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22 Feb, 2012

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