Inside the NBA | Western Conference Preview: Lakers reload as Thunder look to continue success
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 17:10
In part two of the Daily’s NBA preview, we look at Western Conference, which over the offseason has experienced massive change, starting with the Lakers’ acquisition of Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. With the confusion, the Daily attempts to make sense of it all as we go around the conference with our division preview:
Much like the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference, the Northwest is stacked with potential playoff teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder made it to the finals last year on their young “core four,” but the team is noticeably different after trading James Harden to Houston, a move that seems all too soon considering they had just made the Finals the year before. Will Kevin Martin, Harden’s replacement, be enough to keep this team at the top? In any event, expect big numbers from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets surprised many last year, pushing the Lakers to seven games before losing in the first round of the playoffs. Now with a roster that includes high motor-players like Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried and Javale McGee, this team might finally have the defense to make George Karl’s run-and-gun teams a successful reality in high altitude. This could be an exciting season for the Nuggets.
The Utah Jazz were able to grab the eight seed in the playoffs last season on their three-headed frontcourt of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors, and it showed promise of being an effective unit on both sides of the floor. If wing play improves, they could see the playoffs again.
Needing a hot start to lessen the impact of Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio’s absence, the Minnesota Timberwolves were hoping Kevin Love would be the solution. Due to a hand injury that will keep him out a few more weeks, however, the team will now turn to an almost brand-new roster to start the season, a factor that might leave them struggling to keep up with the rest of their division foes.
The Portland Trailblazers are hoping that keeping Nicolas Batum, who threatened to leave all offseason, will be the key to bringing the team back to the playoffs. LaMarcus Aldridge is a talented power forward, and rookie Damian Lillard is looking to disprove the idea that he won’t succeed due to the lack of competition he faced at Weber State.
Where they stand in the Western Conference: 1. Thunder, 5. Nuggets, 7. Jazz, 10. Timberwolves, 12. Trailblazers
The ageless San Antonio Spurs are always written off in preseason reports, so the fact that they consistently overachieve by season’s end should come as no surprise to anyone. This team just knows how to play as one. But now the team’s core players, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker, are above the dreaded 30-year-old threshold, it’s always fair to ask: is this the year they finally play their age?
For the Memphis Grizzlies, this year will be make-or-break for them. The past two seasons, they have been considered dangerous even when their key players, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, barely played together because of respective injuries. If they stay healthy, the Grizzlies will have a roster with which to contend. If not, look for them to go back to the drawing board.
After a weak title defense last season, the Dallas Mavericks are hoping to get to the top half of the standings again. Doing so will be a tall order, though, after they lost out in free agency this summer and had to once again fill their roster with short-term contracted players, as well as the fact that Dirk Nowtizki will be out the first few weeks recovering from surgery.
Having already acquired famous point guard Jeremy Lin, the Rockets finally get the star they have wanted since the departure of Yao Ming in their new acquisition, James Harden. With some more talented lottery picks still in town, it will be up to Harden to lead this team to the playoffs and beyond.
The New Orleans Hornets are hoping that No. 1overall pick Anthony Davis becomes a dominant power forward in the league. Just don’t expect it to happen next year.
Where they stand in the Western Conference: 3. Spurs, 6. Memphis, 8. Mavs, 11. Rockets, 14. Hornets
What else needs to be said about the Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason? After early exits from the playoffs, the Lakers needed a new direction, and they got that in Dwight Howard. With Kobe Bryant playing with a talented point guard in Steve Nash, this Lakers team will not look like anything we’ve seen in the Kobe Bryant era. They will be good, the question is when -- the Lakers are sharing a building with the recently relevantClippers, who look ready to improve in year two of the Chris Paul era. With a full season and now a full offseason to jell with Blake Griffin, as well as the return of Lamar Odom to his rightful L.A. team, expect the offense to take it to another level. Just don’t mention “Vinny Del Negro” to any Clippers fans. It will make them cringe.