Welcome to Timberpups.com’s NBA Western Conference preview, where we’ll be taking you through our predictions of how the conference will shake out, in reverse-rank-order. The West is stacked and it is going to be a tough road for any of the few teams that have a legitimate shot at the title. Let’s get right to it:
15. Sacramento Kings: Look, the Kings have talent on the roster – DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and rookie, Thomas Robinson leading the way here – but this team screams “bad karma”. The Maloof family wants to get out of Sacramento and have been doing everything in their power to turn off their fans. I think it has worked and this team is going to bickering by Christmas. No one on the roster is known to be a leader, and I don’t believe that this is a great place for Keith Smart to try a coaching comeback.
14. Houston Rockets: Going up and down this roster and it screams 20 wins. However, I think the Rockets will scrap night in and night out and surprise a few teams once in a while. Kevin McHale won’t let them play any other way. (Yes, that’s a compliment to McHale, my first in about 20 years.) Their two highest played players weigh a combined 350 lbs soaking wet and one of them is more of a marketing ploy than the value he’ll provide on the court. As an added bonus, their most talented rookie (Royce White) will likely miss games because he doesn’t like to fly in airplanes.
13. Phoenix Suns: Otherwise known as the Wolves of the Southwest Division, the Suns have a few ex-Wolves on the roster (Beasley, W. Johnson, and Telfair) and their record will be similar to those Wolves teams of the past. Congratulations to Robert Sarver for having the lowest payroll in the conference and for continuously doing all in his power to make a dollar. Nash is gone and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Phoenix drop below Houston.
12. New Orleans Hornets: Now that the Hornets have a legitimate owner (Tom Benson) they can start to put together the pieces, and that got a nice boost in the draft with the #1 pick, Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. If Eric Gordon can get/stay healthy, this team could be a lot of fun to watch.
11. Golden State Warriors: When your team’s chances depend on the health of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, you might have a problem. I’m going to set expectations low for GSW. I just don’t see how these guys stay healthy while the rest of the roster is underwhelming relative to …
10. Portland Trail Blazers: The Pups new ‘rivals’ land outside the playoffs again this season, with Aldridge and Batum forming a respectable 1-2 punch at the forward spots. The Blazers can reach the 10 spot if Damian Lillard is three-quarters as good as they are touting him to be. Note: watching the Blazers may lead to an Adam Morrison sighting. You’ve been warned.
9. Utah Jazz: The Jazz need to figure out who they want to keep and then trade away at least one of their near handful of quality forward/centers – Favors, Jefferson, Kanter, and Millsap. If this were to happen, I think they would take a leap into the playoffs, assuming they were to pick up a better PG or wing. There are just too few minutes to let all of those guys split time and be their own, respective best.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves: Our Pups show up here on the list due to Ricky Rubio’s season getting off to a late start, the recent hand injury to Kevin Love, and a desire to temper my expectations with this latest news. However, I still think this team makes the playoffs when all is said and done. Had I put this preview together two weeks ago, the Wolves would have been a 6 seed. Let’s move on to the rest of the conference before I have to break something of my own.
7. Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis has Zach Randolph back to pair with Marc Gasol, who has come into his own in the league. Rudy Gay will be their leading scorer but I’m not sold on their backcourt. They have a tremendous home crowd though but won’t be surprising anyone anymore.
6. Dallas Mavericks: If it wasn’t for Dirk’s injury to his knee, this was going to be my “surprise” pick and I would have had the Mavs as the 4 seed. I think this team is going to surprise a lot of people and I like the veteran presence throughout the roster. I also really wanted Jae Crowder to go to the Wolves on draft night. Must … move … on …
5. Denver Nuggets: This is the one team in the playoffs that I don’t feel comfortable with trying to pick where they land, so I’ve stuck them right in the middle of the playoffs. If the Wolves and Mavs were healthy, I could absolutely see them ahead of the Nuggets. However, I’ve bought into the hype that they are getting. I feel like I should know better and wouldn’t be surprised to see Karl lose this team and then see them subsequently slide in the standings.
4. Los Angeles Clippers: I hate watching the Clippers, which bothers me because I used to love watching Chris Paul. However, the LA hype that they get now just bothers me. Paul and Griffin whine to the refs at every whistle. Anyone that thinks Griffin is a better pro than Love doesn’t understand basketball. The owner of this team is disgusting. Have I mentioned I don’t like the Clippers?
3. San Antonio Spurs: These guys have to start showing their age at some point, right? Right?! I have no idea how this team keeps trucking along but they do and I’m done betting against it. (You may want to look back at this and say “Kiss of death”.)
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder get the two seed here because they will have a slightly tougher schedule playing in the Northwest division. Assuming Harden’s contract doesn’t become a distraction for them, they should have no problem locking up a very high seed going into the playoffs. If you don’t enjoy Kevin Durant, I have no idea why you are reading a basketball blog.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: Remember that lockout that was positioned by the owners as providing a level of competitive balance? Well, does it look like that was the actual reason when you see this roster? Newsflash, the Lakers are really, really good and play in the weakest division in the conference. Assuming Nash, Kobe, or Howard don’t lose a limb, this team is one of less than a handful that can win the championship.
Here’s how I see the playoffs shaking out:
OK, maybe not. I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. Here’s how I actually see the Western Conference playoffs unfolding:
I still think the Thunder can and will make it back to the NBA Finals. Will the Lakers give them a run for their money? Absolutely. Would I be shocked if the Lakers were back in the Finals? Absolutely not. To be honest, there is a little bit of me rooting for the Thunder in these predictions as well. We’ll see.
What do you think of the Western Conference? Any surprise teams on your radar? Let us know in the comments below.