Western Conference Breakdown

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Denver Nuggets

Last Season: 38-28

Coach: George Karl

Nuggets fans should be excited about: Rooting for the fastest, and the most offensively explosive team in the NBA—and everyone’s League Pass favourite. This team has great mix of raw potential, and established quality.

Nuggets fans should be worried about: The lack of a go-to superstar on offense. Seldom do teams win it all with great balance alone. Against the best teams, in the tightest games, you need a player who can score consistently in the half-court.

Highest Ceiling: The Nuggets are deep, and if Faried and McGee continue to get better in the frontcourt, particularly on defense, they could challenge for 1st place in their division.

Lowest Floor: The Nuggets play in a mighty tough division, and can’t afford to be inconsistent, the way they were at times last season. If their young players fail to make the jump, they could be in for a battle to make the playoffs in a highly competitive Western Conference.

Prediction: 2nd in the Northwest, 5th in the West.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Last Season: 26-40

Coach: Rick Adelman

Timberwolves fans should be excited about: Possessing the best power-forward in the game, and one of the most exciting point-guards—once they both return from injury, of course. The addition of versatile Andrei Kirilenko and the continued development of Nikola Pekovic, are also big positives in Minny.

Timberwolves fans should be worried about: Playing .500 basketball while Rubio and Love are out. The T-Wolves have gotten deeper, but there will be a lot of onus on Brandon Roy—dodgy knees and all—and Kirilenko, to provide offense during that tricky interim period.

Highest Ceiling: If the team stays afloat during the Love-Rubio rehabbing, and both of those players return to form in 2013, the Timberwolves should be a playoff team, and could finish as high as 6th or 7th.

Lowest Floor: No one really knows how Rubio will perform when he returns, and unfortunately, given past history, Brandon Roy could break down at any time. If this team is once again overly reliant on Love, they could struggle to make the playoffs.

Prediction: 4th in the Northwest, 8th in the West.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Last Season:
47-19

Coach: Scott Brooks

Thunder fans should be excited about: Watching the breathtaking play of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka—3 of the most exciting players in the league. The Thunder should only get better after their NBA Finals experience last season.

Thunder fans should be worried about: The loss of James Harden and how it affects the chemistry of the team. Harden added a lot of scoring, which Kevin Martin will try and replace, but the Big-3 loved playing together, and it will be interesting to see how Harden’s departure affects Durant and Westbrook early on.

Highest Ceiling: The Thunder undoubtedly still have the talent to win the West, and with Eric Maynor—one of the best back-up point guards in the NBA— returning from injury, there will be less pressure on Russell Westbrook, even with the loss of Harden.

Lowest Floor: The revamped Lakers (an understatement) will pose a massive challenge to the Thunder in the West, and there are still question marks about the frontcourt tandem of Ibaka and Perkins—particularly their ability to defend the pick-n-roll. This loss of Harden adds even more uncertainty to their short-term prospects.

Prediction: 1st in the Northwest, 2st in the West.

 
Portland Trail Blazers

Last Season: 28-38

Coach: Terry Stotts

Trail Blazers fans should be excited about: Everyone’s dark-horse Rookie of Year pick, Damian Lillard, and of course, LaMarcus Aldridge—a top-5 power forward in the NBA.

Trail Blazers fans should be worried about: Nicholas Batum failing to justify the big contract he got in the summer; oh, and a lack of decent NBA talent other than those I’ve mentioned.

Highest Ceiling: A lot of ‘ifs’, but if Batum can live up to his contract, Aldridge continues to excel, and Lillard is as exciting as he’s been in preseason, the Blazers could challenge for the 8th seed in the West—at least for a few months.

Lowest Floor: A lot is riding on the Batum-Aldridge combo, and if that doesn’t fire consistently, the Blazers are going to struggle mightily this year. Fans may cheer for Luke Babbit, J.J. Hickson, and Sasha Pavlovic, but that’s not exactly a fantastic supporting cast.

Prediction: 5th in the Northwest, 13th in the West.

Utah Jazz

Last Season: 36-30

Coach: Tyrone Corbin

Jazz fans should be excited about: The deepest frontcourt in the NBA. Jefferson, Favors, Millsap and Kanther, could all be starters on most NBA teams, and just like last season, the Jazz should give opposition teams fits down low.

Jazz fans should be worried about: The other end of the court. Gordon Hayward is awesome, and he can play at the 2 or 3, but the Jazz lack depth at the guard position. Mo Williams will see a lot of the ball, but he’s more of a shooting guard than a traditional point guard.

Highest Ceiling: If the Jazz play to their strengths, (their frontcourt weapons) they should give teams numerous problems. If Hayward becomes a consistent scorer, and Williams embraces the role of distributor, the Jazz could finish as high as 5th.

Lowest Floor: Millsap and Jefferson are both free agents after this season, which could become a distraction as the season wears on. In a wild conference, the difference between making and missing the playoffs will be very small. The Jazz may miss out if they aren’t focused on basketball.

Prediction: 3rd in the Northwest, 7th in the West.

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors

Last Season: 23-43

Coach: Mark Jackson

Warriors fans should be excited about: Having their deepest team in years—if they can stay injury-free, of course. Andrew Bogut is one of the best two-way centres in the league, perfectly complementing David Lee in the frontcourt, while Steph Curry has the potential to be a regular all-star.

Warriors fans should be worried about: The very real possibility that Curry and Bogut spend more time on the treatment table, than the basketball court. Past history hasn’t given us much hope.

Highest Ceiling:
The Warriors are a playoff team if Curry and Bogut can actually play the majority of the season, and if last year’s stand out rookie, Klay Thompson, continues to play at a high level.

Lowest Floor: The West is just too competitive for the Warriors to make the playoffs if their two best players can’t suit up. If injuries get the better of them, they could slide down the Western Conference standings.

Prediction: 3rd in the Pacific, 11th in the West.

Los Angeles Clippers

Last Season:
40-26

Coach: Vinny Del Negro

Clippers fans should be excited about: The continued revival of their team under the breathtaking stewardship of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The Clippers have also added scoring depth this year, with the acquisitions of Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom (well, in theory).

Clippers fans should be worried about: Other than their coach, whether that potential scoring depth actually translates into much-needed secondary scoring. Crawford was awful last year, while we all know about Odom’s woes.

Highest Ceiling: On paper the Clippers are talented in every position, and are super-deep. If they get contributions from their bench, and the Griffin-Jordan frontcourt combo get better on defense, they could win the West

Lowest Floor: Like I’ve mentioned, the Clippers are relying on some flaky characters, and a past-his-best Chauncey Billups to take some pressure off Paul and Griffin. If they can’t contribute, the Clippers could be in for a dogfight for home-court advantage.

Prediction: 2nd in the Pacific, 4th in the West.

Los Angeles Lakers

Last Season: 41-25

Coach: Mike Brown

Lakers fans should be excited about: Everything! Where to begin? Nash playing the pick-n-roll with Gasol. Kobe throwing alley-oop passes to Howard. Howard and Gasol blocking everything in sight. Yep, just about everything.

Lakers fans should be worried about: Potential chemistry issues in the backcourt. Will Kobe relinquish the ball so that Nash can be effective? Will Kobe realize that Howard is now their best player? In general, lots of Kobe-related questions.

Highest Ceiling: If the Nash-Kobe-Gasol-Howard foursome can click early, this team could, and should, win the West.

Lowest Floor: The aforementioned Kobe-chemistry issues may come to the fore and the Lakers could struggle to find an identity late in games. This shouldn’t be enough of an issue to prevent them winning consistently, but it could result in them sliding to 3rd in the West.

Prediction: 1st in the Pacific, 1nd in the West.

Phoenix Suns

Last Season: 33-33

Coach: Alvin Gentry

Suns fans should be excited about: Having the strangest looking roster in the NBA, but also getting the chance to see the very talented Goran Dragic run the offense for an entire season. Luis Scola should also become a fan favourite.

Suns fans should be worried about: Michael Beasley having a license to shoot when, and where, he pleases. Beasley could make Suns fans long for the days (last season) when no Suns player could create their own shot, and everyone was reliant on Nash’s ball movement.

Highest Ceiling: Beasley’s potential for killing the offense notwithstanding, if Dragic can play like he did last season, and get Gortat going in the process, the Suns could hang around in the 8th-10th place range for a good portion of the year.

Lowest Floor: Players like Dudley and Gortat relied heavily on Nash to get them easy buckets, and if Dragic can’t fulfill that role, this team could find itself closer to the bottom of the Western Conference.

Prediction: 4th in the Pacific, 14th in the West.

Sacramento Kings

Last Season: 22-44

Coach: Keith Smart

Kings fans should be excited about: The continued improvement, on the court, of DeMarcus Cousins, who has the potential to be an all-star every year. Last year also saw the emergence of Isaiah Thomas at point-guard—he’s a lot of fun to watch.

Kings fans should be worried about: Just about everything else. This team’s off-the-court combustibility, lack of leadership, continued issues with Tyreke Evans, and where to play him, and generally not knowing if the team is going to stay in Sacramento for the foreseeable future. Yikes.

Highest Ceiling: The Kings played well towards the end of last season, and if Cousins can progress maturity-wise, they may have a chance for a respectable finish away from the bottom of the West.

Lowest Floor: More likely the Kings will continue to struggle with too many gunners, and not enough maturity and leadership. That will result in a place at the foot of the conference.

Prediction: 5th in the Pacific, 15th in the West.

Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks

Last Season: 36-30

Coach: Rick Carlisle

Mavericks fans should be excited about: A potential O.J. Mayo comeback season. Mayo got lost in the shuffle in Memphis and will have the chance to start at the shooting-guard position this year, and be a big part of the offense.

Mavericks fans should be worried about: Dirk Nowitzki missing the first 6 weeks of the season. The Mavericks have a lot of new pieces, and they will struggle to gel on offense without Dirk. When he does return, how effective he’ll be early on is a big concern.

Highest Ceiling: If Mayo recaptures some of his old form, and the Chris Kaman-Elton Brand combo keeps the Mavs ticking during Nowitzki’s absence, they could finish 2nd in the division and make the playoffs.

Lowest Floor: Nowitzki didn’t look good at the start of last year, and he may not look much better returning from surgery. If the Mavericks can’t stay around .500 during that time, they could fall off the map pretty badly.

Prediction: 3rd in the Southwest, 9th in the West.

Houston Rockets

Last Season: 34-32

Coach: Kevin McHale

Rockets fans should be excited about: More than I initially anticipated. Linsanity was going to be my only answer until the shocking blockbuster trade that landed James Harden yesterday. Suddenly the Rockets have a young, exciting backcourt that could be the most captivating in the league for years to come.

Rockets fans should be worried about: An overreliance on Lin and Harden for all the offense. That’s a fantastic 1-2 punch, but there isn’t a whole lot of offense in the frontcourt for those easy buckets when the games get tight.

Highest Ceiling: That ceiling has grown quite a bit since Saturday night.
If Lin can play the way he did in those 20-plus games with the Knicks, and Harden can excel as a starter, as he did as the league’s best 6th man, the Rockets are playoff contenders this year.

Lowest Floor: There are still question marks about Lin’s health, and if he gets injured again it could put too much pressure on Harden to score and run the point. Omer Asik is a defensive stud, but he and the rest of Houston’s frontcourt won’t provide much offensively.

Prediction: 4th in the Southwest, 10th in the West.

Memphis Grizzlies

Last Season: 41-25

Coach: Lionel Hollins

Grizzlies fans should be excited about: A full season of Zach Randolph, paired with Marc Gasol in the frontcourt—one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Memphis will continue to excite their fans with grittiness and an all-round mean streak.

Grizzlies fans should be worried about: Rudy Gay becoming a ‘black-hole’ on offense. The Grizzlies offense works best when Gasol gets enough touches. During the playoffs Gay tried to do too much, and the Grizzlies were the worse for it.

Highest Ceiling: Memphis has one of the best frontcourts in the league, and if they play the kind of lock-down defense they’re capable off, they could challenge the Spurs for 1st place in the Southwest Division.

Lowest Floor: The team stills lacks consistent outside shooting, and if they can’t improve in that area, it’s conceivable that they could struggle in games. It’s hard to see a scenario where Memphis doesn’t make the playoffs, but 8th place is possible if their weaknesses are badly exposed.

Prediction: 2nd in the Southwest, 6th in the West.

New Orleans Hornets

Last Season: 21-45

Coach: Monty Williams

Hornets fans should be excited about: Anthony Davis, who else?! Davis is NBA-ready and should emerge as one of the best defenders in the league. Flanked by the returning, and super-talented, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson, the Hornets could shock some people.

Hornets fans should be worried about: The lack of a true point-guard. There’s been a lot of talk about Austin Rivers taking on that role, but at this stage, he isn’t up to the standard required.

Highest Ceiling: If Davis anchors the defense, and Eric Gordon is the player we all remember him being, don’t be surprised if this Hornets team makes a run at 8th place in the West.

Lowest Floor: Ryan Anderson isn’t going to be playing with Dwight Howard, and that could affect his shooting. Eric Gordon is injury-prone and if he’s absent for any substantial stretch, it could put too much pressure on Davis. The Hornets could finish near the bottom of a stacked conference if those factors come into play.

Prediction: 5th in the Southwest, 12th in the West.

San Antonio Spurs

Last Season: 50-16

Coach: Gregg Popovich

Spurs fans should be excited about: The growth of Kawhi Leonard into a fantastic two-way player. Leonard can contribute on offense and is already a solid defensive player. His form will be key to the Spurs making another title run.

Spurs fans should be worried about: Tim Duncan finally succumbing to age and injuries. He was fantastic last season, but with the Lakers compiling the scariest frontcourt in the NBA, the Spurs could be exposed with Duncan at centre.

Highest Ceiling:
If Duncan and Manu Ginobli get sufficient rest, Tony Parkers plays as well as he did last season, and the young players on the Spurs continue to grow—the likes of Leonard and Danny Green—the Spurs could well challenge for 1st place in the West. Remember, they still have the best coach in the NBA.

Lowest Floor:
Popovich may feel that his Big 3 will need a lot of rest this year, and the Spurs might therefore ‘give away’ a few more regular season games than expected. Memphis could challenge them for top spot in the division, and they could find themselves in the middle of the playoff pack as a result.

Prediction: 1st in the Southwest, 3rd in the West.

 

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