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NBA Western Conference Preview
Lots of changes in the Western Conference. The Spurs narrowly missed out on adding a 5th ring to their dynasty. Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook work to fight through injuries, Dwight Howard finally landed in Houston, and there's a new sheriff, and top team, in Tinseltown. Wanna see how the West will be one? Check out the preview for the NBA's Western Conference.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (last season: 60-22)
Russell Westbrook returned from injury to boost an Oklahoma City squad some think need to win now. Skeptics are predicting Kevin Durant to leave OKC for a bigger market once his contract is up, so its win or go home for the Thunder. K.D. will look to lead the league in scoring again, and Serge Ibaka continues to be a defensive menace. But this team will only go as far as their point guard play allows it to.
2. Denver Nuggets (last season: 57-25)
Brian Shaw finally gets his opportunity to be a head coach in Denver, and he has a great cast with Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and Randy Foye. JaVale McGee returns at center with Nate Robinson now the 6th man. The Nuggets could improve once Danilo Galinari returns from an ACL injury.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves (last season: 31-51)
Rick Adelman’s crew continues to get better, and if healthy, could be a playoff team this season. Kevin Love has two years left on his contract and is just 25. Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic are healthy, along with Kevin Martin. If Derrick Williams can shrug off the early “bust” label, the T’Wolves are playoff bound.
4. Portland Trailblazers (last season: 33-49)
Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard captains the Blazers in Terry Stotts’ second year as head coach. LaMarcus Aldridge will continue to play through trade rumors. It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up. Robin Lopez joints Meyers Leonard at center, and CJ McCollum comes in as Rip City’s second straight 1st rounder from a mid-major school.
5. Utah Jazz (last season: 43-39)
Both of Utah’s top 2 centers, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, both went to the Southeast Division. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are now the bigs in the middle for Utah. Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward look to lead the Jazz back to the postseason on a young, inexperienced Jazz team. So far, the 0-8 Jazz look like they'll end up in the Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker sweepstakes come May.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (last season: 56-26)
Once the laughingstock of professional sports, the Clippers are now the toast of Los Angeles. CP3 and Blake Griffin lead a Clippers team coming off their first division title in team history. Their bench is stacked with JJ Redick, Antawn Jamison, and Byron Mullens coming over to help Jamal Crawford & company. Reggie Bullock comes over in the draft from UNC. The biggest offseason move? Acquiring head coach Doc Rivers to run a new winning team in Hollywood.
2. Golden State Warriors (last season: 47-35)
One of the surprise teams of last postseason were the Golden State Warriors, led by budding superstar Stephen Curry, sharpshooter Klay Thompson, and big man David Lee. Moving to the Bay is the poor man’s LeBron James, also known as Andre Igoudala. This Warriors team will be a scary one to stop come April & May.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (last season: 45-37)
Showtime is no more in LA, as Kobe Bryant will miss some time after tearing his Achilles last season and Dwight Howard packed up and moved to Houston. Pau Gasol leads a team of newcomers like Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, and Nick Young. Jordan Farmar will run the point frequently with an aging, oft-injured Steve Nash still in tow. A Steve Blake 3 to defeat D12 and his new teammates, including a victory over their roommates in red and white, have been the highlights of this young Lakers season.
4. Sacramento Kings (last season: 28-54)
Golden State assistant Michael Malone takes the reigns of a Kings franchise now partly-owned by former tormentor Shaquille O’Neal. Tyreke Evans is gone, but in comes Ben McLemore, one of the top 3 players in last year’s draft, and Greivis Vasquez, who ran the point in New Orleans. Carl Landry returns to Sac-Town, but the big story will be captain DeMarcus Cousins as he begins his 4th season in the NBA.
5. Phoenix Suns (last season: 25-57)
New look all-around for the Phoenix Suns as they hand the head coaching gig over to former guard Jeff Hornacek. Goran Dragic runs the backcourt with new guard Eric Bledsoe and big man Alex Lin, but it’ll be a while before this team is ready to compete.
1. San Antonio Spurs (last season: 58-24)
The Spurs should be celebrating their 5th NBA title right now. Unfortunately for them, they open up the 2013-14 campaign looking to right last summer’s wrong. The team returns with ALL core players in tact, reserves as well. In addition, San Antonio added shooter Marco Belinelli to come off the bench. The window on the Spurs is closing, and some believe it closed the night of game 7 of the NBA Finals.
2. Houston Rockets (last season: 45-37)
The addition of James Harden pushed the Rockets into the playoffs. Bringing in Dwight Howard could make them title contenders. D12 joins Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and the Rockets as they look to win their first NBA championship since 1995. The Dawhite Howard circus has finally found a landing spot to showcase his talents. LA was a wrong fit for him, but with Harden and Co. in H-Town, they'll create some problems for teams in the West.
3. Memphis Grizzlies (last season: 56-26)
Lionel Hollins left in a very nasty divorce in Memphis. Assistant Dave Joerger stays on to coach a team that went to the Western Conference Finals last season. Z-Bo and Marc Gasol are still one of the most intimidating frontcourts in the NBA, and Mike Miller comes back to Tennessee after winning two titles in Miami.
4. New Orleans Pelicans (last season: 27-55)
Not only is there a new identity in the Big Easy, there is the hope of a playoff berth with the introduction of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday. Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon captain a Pelicans team that could be one of the better rising young teams in the NBA.
5. Dallas Mavericks (last season: 41-41)
Last year, the Mavs missed out on their first postseason in over a decade. Less than 3 years removed from an NBA championship, the Mavs are now looking up at the other teams in their division. Monta Ellis, Devin Harris and Jose Calderon run the backcourt, and Dirk Nowitzki is still a future Hall-of-Famer. But this team isn’t the same one we saw in 2011.