Steinmetz: West isn’t improved, either

Last week, we made the compelling case that the Warriors, as of right now, aren’t as good as they were last season — particularly at the end of last season during their playoff run. OK, so maybe not compellingbut we made a case.

That was the bad news.

The good news comes this week, and here it is: The teams the Warriors will likely be competing with for a playoff spot aren’t any better, either. The middle of the pack in the Western Conference is very beatable, as they say.

Let’s take a quick look:

» Los Angeles Lakers: They finished with the same record as the Warriors (42-40) last season and went to the playoffs as a No. 7 seed. The Lakers added Derek Fisher, but he certainly isn’t a difference maker. Center Chris Mihm is expected to return from an injury that kept him out all of last year, which should help.

But there is still the unresolved issue with Kobe Bryant, who still seems to want out of L.A. And if Kobe isn’t happy, the Lakers are in big trouble.

» Los Angeles Clippers: They will be without Elton Brand for a while and point guard Shaun Livingston still isn’t 100 percent after an ugly injury. How can the Clippers not slip?

» New Orleans Hornets: Coach Byron Scott’s team was decimated by injuries last season, but managed to stay in the playoff hunt. They picked up sharpshooter Morris Peterson from Toronto and Peja Stojakovic is expected to return from injury. Still, it’s not like you see a six- to eight-game improvement here.

» Sacramento Kings: New coach Reggie Theus will try to create a new-look team in Sacramento, but it’s still the same old faces: Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Kevin Martin et al. Sacramento, no better than last season, is poised to retool.

» Minnesota Timberwolves: It will be a long season in Minneapolis. It is unrealistic to expect Minnesota will lose Kevin Garnett and get better. Ricky Davis, Al Jefferson and Mark Blount? That’s not good enough.

» Portland Trail Blazers: No doubt, the Blazers are going to be good. It’s just too soon to think it’s going to be this year. Greg Oden will make them better, but this figures to be the year Portland falls just short of the playoffs. They won 32 games last season; look for them to be in the high 30s in 2007-08.

» Seattle SuperSonics: Seattle is going young. It let go of Rashard Lewis and traded Ray Allen. It is building around Kevin Durant, which is a sound idea. The building, however, will take time.

» Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis has a new coach (Mark Iavaroni) who will try to continue Memphis’ up-tempo style. But Memphis won just 22 games a year ago, and 20-game improvements don’t come often.

The Warriors have tinkered with their roster this offseason and now have an abundance of young players they’re going to count on. In years past, that was no way to get into the postseason in the Western Conference.

This year? They’ve got a shot.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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