October 29, 2012
When the Orlando Magic traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers this past July, it dramatically shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference. With “Superman” now wearing purple and gold, the Lakers become the favorites to win the West. Here’s a preview of the top eight teams in the West this season.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (59-23)
The Lakers made the biggest splash this offseason acquiring Dwight Howard in a blockbuster deal. Oh yeah, and they also brought in future Hall of Famer Steve Nash to play point guard to join Kobe Bryant in arguably the best backcourt in the NBA. A starting lineup of Nash, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Howard stacks up as possibly the best starting five in the league. Not only do the Lakers have a star studded starting lineup, but they added much needed help to their bench. They signed Antwan Jamison to provide help down low off the bench. They also signed Jodie Meeks as a solid backup to Bryant. They also acquired Chris Duhon and Earl Clark in the Howard trade to give them even more depth. This team is very deep, which is pivotal to keep an aging Nash and Bryant healthy come playoff time. The Lakers will win the Pacific Division and have the best record in the Western Conference at 59-23.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (57-25)
Losing James Harden really hurts the Oklahoma City Thunder and their chances to win the West this season. This team is coming off a Western Conference title, but don’t expect them to repeat this season. The Thunder did nothing this offseason to make them favorites over the Lakers. Besides losing Harden, OKC brings back mostly the same team, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. This team still has the talent with that strong front court of Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins. They will still have a very impressive season and go deep into the playoffs, but losing their 6th man will play a major role. Expect the Thunder to win the Northwest Division and finish second in the West with a 57-25 record.
3. San Antonio Spurs (56-26)
The San Antonio Spurs bring back the exact same roster as last season that was tied for the best record in the NBA at 50-16. Every year, the Spurs get overlooked in the West. They continue to find ways to win, despite their aging stars. They have arguably the best coach in the NBA in Greg Popovich and they still have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. The Spurs have a solid starting five in Parker, Ginobli, Kawhi Leonard, Duncan, and Boris Diaw. They also have a formidable bench led by Patty Mills, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson, DeJuan Blair, and Tiago Splitter. Their bench was a huge reason for their success last season. Expect the Spurs to quietly have a great season once again winning the Southwest Division and finishing just a game behind the Thunder at 56-26.
4. Denver Nuggets (53-29)
The Denver Nuggets are the biggest threat to any other team in the West come playoff time. Denver is one of the deepest teams in the NBA and could give the Lakers a run for their money in a playoff series. The Nuggets acquired Andre Iguodala, a strong wingman who can isolate, which is a pivotal piece that they lacked last season. They also will have small forward Wilson Chandler for the entire season. A starting five of Ty Lawson, Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and JaVale McGee is one of the best in the West. Having Chandler, Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, and Timofey Mozgov come off the bench isn’t too shabby either. The Nuggets are going to be a tough team to beat this season and one of the best teams to watch. Look for them to finish 4th in the West with a 53-29 season.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (51-31)
The Clippers began a new start last season with Chris Paul leading them at point guard. ”Lob City” was in full force at the Staples Center last season with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan being the recipients of plenty of big finishes. Vinny Del Negro’s team made the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and only the 5th time in Los Angeles Clippers franchise history. They had a tremendous offseason adding guard Jamal Crawford, veteran forward Grant Hill, forwards Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom, and big man Ronny Turiaf. The Clippers have incredible depth on this team bringing in some big pieces to the puzzle. The key will be staying healthy. Their starting lineup of Paul, Billups, Caron Butler, Griffin, and Jordan is going to be tough to stop, especially when you have guys like Crawford, Hill, and Barnes that can score off the bench. They have the talent, but they key will be putting it all together. The Clippers will finish 51-31 and 5th in the West this season.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (48-34)
The Grizzlies were one of the big surprises in the NBA last season finishing 4th in the West with a 41-25 season. They bring back almost an identical team as we saw last year that saw them have success. Their frontcourt of Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol are back this season and ready to take the Grizzlies back to the playoffs. While their starting five is very solid, their bench still lacks the depth to compete with the top teams in the conference. For that reason, expect the Grizzlies to finish 6th in the West with a 48-34 record.
7. Utah Jazz (46-36)
The Jazz sneaked into the playoffs last year as the 8 seed finishing 36-30. Utah had a successful offseason revamping their lineup bringing in point guard Mo Williams, shooting guard Randy Foye, and small forward Marvin Williams. They will join Paul Millsap and center Al Jefferson, who were the top scorers for the Jazz last season. Derrick Favors will also play a major role off the bench for this team. This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but will be an early first round exit. Expect a nice season from the Jazz as they will finish 7th in the West at 46-36.
8. Dallas Mavericks (44-38)
The Mavericks enter the 2012-2013 season as a completely different team. They lost out on Deron Williams and did not bring back Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. They brought in Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, and Darren Collison. Losing out on Williams and not bringing back Terry or Kidd will hurt the Mavs this season. This is definitely still a playoff team led by their star Dirk Nowitzki, but this team is not an upper echelon of the Western Conference. They brought in some nice pieces, but not a guy like Deron Williams that makes you a major contender. The Mavericks will get the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs finishing 44-38.
Western Conference Playoffs
(1) Lakers over (8) Mavericks
(2) Thunder over (7) Jazz
(3) Spurs over (6) Grizzlies
(4) Nuggets over (5) Clippers
(1) Lakers over (4) Nuggets
(2) Thunder over (3) Spurs
(1) Lakers over (2) Thunder
Miami Heat over Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers will move on to the NBA Finals thanks to the addition of Nash and Howard. They are too talented and too deep for the Thunder. In June, we will see one of the greatest NBA Finals of all time between the Lakers and the Heat. The “big three” in Miami will come out on top in a thrilling seven games series to capture their second consecutive NBA title.