Posted by sasilverandblack on 8th October 2010
The East is more lopsided than ever this year as the fringe contenders in the Hawks have been brushed aside for the Bulls. The primary contenders are said to be the Celtics, Magic, and Heat. In the West, seeds one through eight are much closer. Every Western Conference playoff team last year won at least 50 games. The Thunder, who were the eighth seed, provided a scare to the first-seeded Lakers, but the Lakers ultimately emerged victorious in the end, as we all know.
This year looks to be more of the same. However, some of the teams have dropped off a bit. It’s impossible to predict the seeding, especially if the race is as tight as it was last year. Let’s see how the West shapes up this year.
#8 New Orleans Hornets
I like this bunch. A lot of people don’t think this team as currently constructed and with the recent moves ownership has made can make the postseason, but I think they can sneak in. They are on of my three surprise teams to watch for this year. They’ve got a new coach in Monty Williams, who has served under Nate McMillan in Portland. They’ve added a couple of new pieces in attempts to entice Chris Paul to stay. Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, Willie Green, and Jason Smith are all newcomers that figure to contribute. Washington rookie Quincy Pondexter might get some significant minutes as well. Marcus Thornton will continue to flourish with an outstanding floor general in Chris Paul leading the way. I just hope trading away Darren Collison was the right move. If Paul misses some significant time again, these guys are in trouble. The frontcourt tandem of David West and Emeka Okafor are solid. Look for Ariza to have a quality year now that he is in a familiar spot that he was in with the Lakers. The Rockets were asking him to create and score more than what was his comfort level. Paul is determined to succeed this year. This bunch sneaks in the playoffs with 46-48 wins.
#7 Denver Nuggets
This will be a tough year for this years’ Nuggets. They’ve had to deal with the constant barrage of Carmelo Anthony trade talks, not to mention the displeasure of J.R. Smith. Who knows if Melo will still be a Nugget past this year’s trade deadline, but as of now, it doesn’t seem like he wants to stick around for long. They could have made a move to improve their roster, but the only addition they added was Al Harrington. He’s fine and all, but he’s basically a Kenyon Martin clone, who has been battling injuries recently. Martin hasn’t been the same player of late. Chris Anderson will miss early time this season as well. The Nuggets look a little thin in the frontcourt, as Martin is scheduled to be out until December and Anderson will miss a couple of games to start the season. Nene and Harrington will have to step up this season and perform. This Nuggets team, as currently put together, doesn’t look like they can compete with the best of the West. Add to that Melo’s status in limbo and it results in a shaky season for this Nuggets team. Hey, at least they still have Chauncey Billups. They’ll stumble into the postseason with 48-50 wins.
#6 Utah Jazz
The Bulls practically gutted the Jazz roster. Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Carlos Boozer have all been transferred to the Windy City. Not to worry, though. They picked up Timberwolves big man Al Jefferson to fill the void. The Jazz have a pretty favorable frontcourt lineup in Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Mehmet Okur. Millsap will have his time to shine at power forward now that Boozer is gone. Okur will be a nice bench piece to provide a spark. The Jazz stayed busy this offseason. They picked up Raja Bell, athletic swingman C.J. Watson from Golden State, and the ninth overall draft pick in Gordon Hayward. Jerry Sloan is one of the best coaches in basketball and he is the man to mesh these new pieces with the mainstays. I’m sure Deron Williams won’t miss a beat with the absence of Boozer by feeding two big bodies in Jefferson and Millsap. Hopefully Andrei Kirilenko can stay healthy as well. There’s now doubt the injuries to him and Okur hurt this team in the playoffs last year. The Jazz look strong again this year, and could finished higher in the West. I’ll give them 50-53 wins.
#5 Portland Trail Blazers
This squad is full of ifs. They have been for as long as they’ve had Greg Oden. He has been the butt of many injury jokes that also have people labeling him as a bust. While it’s too early to say that, he needs to start showing that he can play something close to a full season. He has played 82 games in the three seasons. Not good. On top of Oden’s injury woes, Brandon Roy had problems staying healthy when it mattered most during the playoffs last year. Joel Przybilla was also hurt, leaving them thin at center until they picked up Marcus Camby in a trade. Now, barring injury, the Blazers are in a position to compete with the Lakers. The only lingering problem is Rudy Fernandez. He wants out, and the Blazers have been moving sluggishly in trading him. His situation, among other things, has been a little confusing in the way they have been handled. Wesley Matthews was signed to a five-year $32 million deal. Nobody knows exactly how that happened. All in all, these guys should be pretty darn good IF they can stay healthy. They’ll win 50-54 games.
#4 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs are masters of the regular season. They seem to be in the top echelon every year, then they flop in the playoffs. They got a couple of newcomers that could make an impact, but not a big enough one. New additions to the team include Tyson Chandler. I could see Kidd and Chandler hooking up on a couple of nice lob plays, similar to Chandler’s stint with Chris Paul and the Hornets. They also signed Ian Mahinmi away from the Spurs. The Mavs have the same core returning. They have their rock in Dirk Nowitzki, an aging yet still capable Jason Kidd, the sharpshooting ace in Jason Terry, the defensively minded Shawn Marion, and tough-minded scorer in Caron Butler. I’m afraid they are headed for similar results unless Dirk shows us all something we’ve never seen out of him, or if Mark Cuban can land Carmelo Anthony (ha, long shot). Dirk just hasn’t shown that he can be a featured player on a championship team. I really don’t see that changing this year. They’ll win 52-55 games, but after that, they’ve got some proving to do.
#3 San Antonio Spurs
The old guys from the Alamo City never seem to go away. This year, like many years, they are flying under the radar. Only this year I think they have the potential to dethrone the mighty Lakers. They just don’t want anybody to know about it. That’s right, I said it. Tim Duncan is still the core of the team. Tony Parker is playing with a chip on his shoulder in a contract year after a year in which he missed significant playing time due to injury. Manu Ginobili is still Manu. It’s the young core that I believe will propel these guys. An improving DeJaun Blair, who has been working on his all-around game, looks to contribute greatly this year. George Hill is coming off a year in which he finished second in the most improved player voting. He will only get better as time goes on and he gets more playing time. The arrival of the Brazilian big man in Tiago Splitter is the guy who will make the most difference. He is also the guy that Ron Artest knows nothing about. He will provide some much needed help on the defensive end in defending pick-and-rolls. Oklahoma State standout James Anderson looks to be a key contributor as well. I like the Spurs winning 52-56 games this year.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder
I almost put the Spurs in this spot, but in the West, anything can happen. The Thunder have been raved throughout this offseason as the team to challenge the Lakers out West. I’m not sure they are at that level yet. Yes, they did scare the champs last year in the opening round. One thing is certain, Kevin Durant is ridiculously talented. Not one person can deny him that. His range is unbelievable for a player of his size. Th Thunder return was largely the same roster, and for good reason. Both Durant and Russell Westbrook are better for their time in the FIBA games this summer. Look for Westbrook to have a breakout type of year. I like this young group. I’m looking to see the improvement from James Harden and Jeff Green as well. They are going to need those two, among others, to step up and support Durant and Westbrook. I like the Thunder this year, but I’m not sold that they can beat the Lakers. They will win 52-56 games this year.
#1 Los Angeles Lakers
You can pretty much pencil the Lakers as the first seed in the West. That is, unless Kobe Bryant’s body finally collapses and he has to sit out some games. The same core is returning with the addition of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff. Andrew Bynum still can’t get healthy. He’ll sit out until at least November, according to him. What else is there to say? The Lakers are the champs until someone knocks them off. The West is not as one-sided as people have been pegging it to be though. There are other teams that can defeat them in a seven game series, now let’s see if they can. The Lakers roll into the playoffs with 56-60 wins.
Tags: Blazers, hornets, jazz, lakers, mavericks, NBA, Nuggets, Spurs, thunder
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