Entering the season there are several teams in the Western Conference that are expected to make significant gains in win column. The LA Clippers hope to add about 10 wins this year with the healthy return of Blake Griffin, and I believe they will. Blake is the real deal as many Kings fans know who endlessly followed him before last years NBA draft lottery ping pong balled us over to Tyreke Evans. The Houston Rockets are another team that hopes to add 10 wins or more IF Yao Ming can stay healthy and with Kevin Martin in the lineup all season. IF IF Yao stays healthy I think this team goes all the way to a top 5 team in the West. Brooks, Martin, Battier, Scola, Ming is a nasty starting 5. Then there are the Kings that should add 10 wins at least this year. Obviously we all know Sac in young and perimeter shooting and defensive effort and execution are huge keys, but this team has so much talent this year... there has to be a big step forward. Between the Kings, Rockets, and Clippers, I see that as a 30-40 win increase between the 3, not to mention the Hornets with CP3 returning, the Grizz on the rise and OKC expected to jump to a top 4 seed. So that leaves the question... Where do the wins in the West come from???
Of the teams with lets say "wins to lose" (the top 7 playoff teams from last year) I think the LA Lakers, Mavericks, Spurs, Blazers have the best shot at maintaining or increasing their win totals. The Lakers are loaded, even if Kobe isnt all the way back, the farthest you need to look is to Lamar Odom, if their 6th man is the 2nd or 3rd best player on most teams in the league, that means that roster is loaded. Also they will have a chip on their shoulder with all the hype Miami and OKC are getting. Dallas is a veteran roster but still stacked... All-Stars Marion and Terry on the bench, Dirk, Butler, Kidd etc, dont expect a drop off. The Spurs still have Duncan, Manu, Parker, Jefferson, and young talent in Splitter and Blair, not to mention Popovich... San Antonio isnt going anywhere. Portland has shown they can win despite injuries. McMillan is underrated and if they stay anywhere near full strength Roy, Aldridge, Camby, Oden, Miller and company will compete for a home court seed in the West.
Have you figured it out yet?, that leaves 3 teams with "Wins to give" out West, Denver, Phoenix and Utah.
3. Utah- They lost Boozer, Korver, Matthews, and Brewer from the beginning of last year. And Okur is still hurt. Having said that I dont expect a major drop off. Jerry Sloan is a top 3 coach in the NBA and Deron Williams is my pick for NBA MVP this season. Williams is scary good and will be asked to take on an even bigger role this year. They stole Al Jefferson from Minnesota and the supporting cast is still solid with Millsap, Miles, AK47 and eventually Okur. Utah may take a small step back but dont expect the Jazz to fall all the way out of the playoffs.
2. Phoenix- The Suns lost Amare to the Knicks and Nash and Hill are a year older. Early reports are that Jason Richardson is going to be asked to take on a bigger role, but who knows if he can handle being the clear #1 option. Nash has to drop off sometime and the team is still soft on D. The biggest problem I see with the Suns is they have zero interior scoring without Amare. All their remaining bigs are either garbage men (Lopez, Amundson) or perimeter players (Frye, Dudley). I think this team overachieved last year and are my number 2 candidate to give up significant wins in the West. I think Phoenix falls to a low playoff seed if not all the way out of the playoffs this year.
1. Denver- There are so many Red Flags in Denver this season. It would be a shock to me if they kept it all together and returned to the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony wants out and a slow start will only force the Nuggets hand to get something for him instead of lose him like the Cavs with LeBron. Chauncey Billups may lose another step, he was already unable to defend the fast PGs, and it could only get worse. Quick PGs are everywhere (Rose, Rondo, Wall, Brooks, Evans, Paul, Williams, Parker, Wade). George Karls health is a major concern. A frustrating season could force him to vacate his position or at least take time away. Also the Nuggets role players are more Boom or Bust than any team in the NBA. Birdman, JR Smith and K-Mart are all huge personalities, and if it goes bad in Denver these guys could make it really really bad. Denver is my #1 favorite to drop major wins in the West this year and miss the playoffs altogether.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to your responses.