Western Conference Preview
Oklahoma City Thunder – I do not like the Harden trade for this season. The Thunder might be better in the long run, but when you are so close to a title, why mess with it? Kevin Martin can flat out score, but he couldn’t guard me. That’s going to be a problem in the playoffs. His scoring will get them a lot of wins in the regular season though.
Los Angeles Lakers – It always works out for the Lakers. They were able to turn Bynum into Dwight Howard AND add Steve Nash. A Nash, Bryant, Peace, Gasol, Howard starting lineup is as good as it gets. Their bench is pretty terrible, but once the playoffs start and the starters play extended minutes, it won’t matter as much. The window for this unit to win is fairly small since 4 out of 5 of the starters are nearing the end of their careers, but they are on the short list of contenders this year.
San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs are one of the two teams in the conference (league?) that are two deep at every position. That means less minutes for Duncan and Ginobili which in theory will preserve them for the playoffs. This team should take a look at the standings near the end of the season and “adjust” their lineup to try and avoid a 1st round matchup against the Grizzlies.
Denver Nuggets – This, to me, is the most interesting team in the West. There is no superstar on the team, but they are legitimately two deep in every position. Igoudala is a huge upgrade over Afflalo and Harrington. McGee and Randolph are question marks, but if either one of them produces and Faried takes another step forward, this team can make some serious noise in the offseason.
Los Angeles Clippers– The starting lineup stays the same this season for the Clippers. They added a very puffy looking Lamar Odom, who may be washed up. Barnes and Hill were decent pickups. As currently constructed, this team seems like the West Coast Hawks. A very good team, but not as good as the top 3-4 teams in the conference which equals a 1st or 2nd round defeat.
Memphis Grizzlies – Pretty much the same team as last year, with Bayless in place of Mayo. The difference is Randolph is healthy this year. We’ve yet to see a full run with Gay and Randolph healthy at the same time. I’d still like to see more shooters on this squad, but their frontcourt of Gay, Randolph and Gasol will give any team, even the Lakers, trouble. If they end up playing the Spurs in the first round, they have a great chance at an upset.
Utah Jazz – The Jazz have four big men who would start on most teams. They also have players from positions 1-3 (PG, SG, SF) who would start on almost zero teams. I expect either Jefferson or Millsap (two large expiring contracts) to be moved for some backcourt help, which will make this a much more well-rounded team.
Minnesota Timberwolves – The last playoff spot will be defined by injuries. I expect the injury to Dirk will hurt the Mavs more than the injuries to Love and Rubio. Still a lot of ifs on this roster. Will Derrick Williams improve? Will Kirilenko and Roy stay healthy? Will Pekovic continue to improve? If more than one of these answers is yes then the Wolves will sneak into the playoffs.
Dallas Mavericks – It looks like this may be the first season Dirk misses the playoffs in twelve years. Dirk himself is going to miss the first few weeks of the season and in the competitive Western Conference that might be too much ground for the Mavericks to make up. The Mavs basically forfeited a chance at defending their championship last year in order to sign a max free agent this offseason. That didn’t quite work out. They ended up with Darren Collison, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman. Those 4 plus Nowitzki, Marion and Carter isn’t going to get the job done.
Golden State Warriors – On paper, I really like this team. On paper. In reality, Curry and Bogut have to prove that they can stay healthy (which neither has done in the preseason) for me to fully buy into them. I think the starting lineup of Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Lee and Bogut can compete with most rosters out there but I’m skeptical how many times, if any, we’ll see it this season.
Houston Rockets – Lots of movement over in Houston. They lost Martin, Budinger, Lowry, Camby, Lee, Dragic, Scola and Lamb. They added Harden, Asik, Delfino and Lin. Is Lin the real deal? Can Harden be the #1 option on a team? If both of those answers aren’t “yes”, this team is going nowhere, and I have a feeling at least one of those answers will not be yes.
Phoenix Suns – Loved the pickup of Dragic and Scola, not so much the pickup of Beasley, but I guess at about 6M per year, it’s worth a shot to see if he evolves. Not much else going on here. This team is bad but not a complete train wreck.
Portland Trailblazers – Portland got decimated by injuries the last few years and were forced into rebuilding mode. Lillard looks like a promising rookie and Aldridge is one of the best PF’s in the league. They have a few other nice pieces like Matthews and Batum (grossly overpaid) and some cap space. Bottom feeders this season but might not stay that way for long.
Sacramento Kings – This team has about 7 players that love to shoot and hate to pass. Cousins looks like he’s going to be a beast, but this is an ill-fitting team that seems to have no direction.
New Orleans Hornets – Unibrow or not, this team is still going to be terrible. If Eric Gordon gets injured again they’ll be in a tight race with the Bobcats for league’s worst.
OKC vs. Minnesota – OKC in 5
LAL vs. Utah – LAL in 5
San Antonio vs. Memphis – Memphis in 6
Denver vs. LAC – Denver in 7
OKC vs. Denver – Denver in 6
LAL vs. Memphis – LAL in 7
LAL vs. Denver – Denver in 7
Denver vs. Boston – Boston in 6
I’m also writing additional articles for Popblerd a few times a month. They will be more about the league in general instead of Knicks specific. Check out Popblerd every week for more NBA posts.