Re: Top 3 teams in the west- Lakers, Spurs, Mavs
Not to nitpick here, but I just want to point out a couple things.
Spurs' defense isn't what it was during their championship runs, but their offense is MUCH better than it used to be (I'm not sure why nobody ever points this out. Everyone nitpicks the defense not being as good, but overlook the fact that their offense is much better). Spurs' defense is also still top 10 in the NBA (which is higher than LA), while their offense is #1 in the league. If they had middle of the pack offense with just the #9 defense, I'd be worried. But it's #1. Defense is top 10. Having a top 10 defense is hardly bad when your offense is #1. I think that is a very overrated "weakness" of the team.
Their defensive rating also dropped when Hill was out for ten days. They're very close to being #8 in defense, and can realistically tighten it up and get as high as 5-6 before the season's over. They aren't much worse than the #6 defensive team right now. They're about as close to them as LA's defense is to SA's. (I'm just using LA as an example here since they're the defending champs, not trying to shit on them or anything.)
Also about defense, will the Mavs' heavy use of zone D' actually work in a 7 game series? When teams know how to attack them, and grow used to it, will it start to fail them? This is a big question mark.
On your health comments about SA: All three teams have health issues. To be fair, Duncan and Parker have both been pretty healthy their whole careers. I would say both Duncan and Parker are about as injury prone as Kobe. Bynum and Chandler on the other hand, haven't had healthy careers.
And those guys happen to be the biggest defensive players on their respective teams. If they go down, neither team gets past the second round without a lot of luck. I would say all 3 teams have pretty much equal health concerns. SA has had bad luck with health repeatedly at the worst times over the last decade and it's cut their playoffs short multiple times, but their overall health (besides Manu), has been good. It's just been incredibly bad luck timing to happen right before, or during the playoffs.
Another key for my Spurs is that they are capable of playing at any pace successfully. A lot of teams get taken out of their rhythem if you change speeds on them. SA has no slowdown, since they're now playing fast paced, but nearly every player on the team has a ton of experience with a slow pace. When SA gets a lead late, it's over. They change the pace, slow it down, and still score. If they're losing, they can stay high paced and get back into it. Their team being stacked with 3pt shooters always gives them a puncher's chance of getting back into games they shouldn't win, and they've done it multiple times already.
I also think LA has a glaring transition defense weakness this year. If you run on them, they get picked apart. Especially team who play a normal pace but burst out with fast breaks anyway (Thunder, Spurs, Mavs, Heat). For some reason, LA as a collective whole seems slower. It might be early season low energy, but they're also older. Their core three guys are all 30+ now.
The Lakers seem to have recently figured out what works for them (finally), and are back to winning. So there is the good news for Lakers right now.