Monday, August 16, 2010

2010 NBA Preview: Western Conference

Season ticket packages for college football should have arrived or be on their way this week. So it's time for the Western Conference 2010 playoff predictions and All-Playoff team. Can anybody beat the Lakers? Let's find out.

1 - Los Angeles Lakers
        Fresh off their back-to-back NBA Championship, the Lakers add Steve Blake to their roster, resign Shannon Brown and sign their two draft picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. Nobody can argue that they are still the best team in the West (do I dare say best in the league). Replacing Jordan Farmar with Blake makes their bench even stronger. Some are thinking Blake is the point guard of the future in LA with D-Fish's future in question as he is seemingly aging on the court. Fisher just had his least significant season for the champs. They still have the big three and also added Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff. This could be the best Lakers team we've all seen in this generation.

2 - Dallas Mavericks
      Jason Kidd isn't showing any signs of retirement. The guy is still putting up triple doubles. Some say his time is limited as it may well be, but I still think he belongs in the argument of the Top 10 point guards in the league. The Mavs added Tyson Chandler who's had some disappointing seasons but he could still be effective for Mark Cuban's Mavs. They will have Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler for an entire season now, and of course they still have Dirk. That's three seven footers. Cuban sure does know what he's doing. The Lakers are the team to beat and he's doing what he can to compete with their twin towers in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Look for Dallas to have their best season since the 2006 finals.

3 - Utah Jazz
     There hasn't been much love for the Utah Jazz. Even after they beat the Denver Nuggets as the 5 seed without Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko. Are you kidding me? They  did lose two key players to the Bulls this off-season though. Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver didn't show any signs of wanting to resign with the Jazz. The two of them recruited ex Jazzman Ronnie Brewer. The fans in Utah were disappointed and ready to discount GM Kevin O'Connor yet again. But Kevin made up for what he lost. The Jazz traded for Al Jefferson and brought back one time Jazzman Raja Bell. Jefferson is more Malone-esque than Boozer was and provides more of a threat. He will also be better for Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur as he is more versatile and can play either the 4 or 5. With Andrei Kirilenko able to play the 3 and 4 Utah has alot of upside in their frontcourt. A front court that no other team really has. This could be Deron Williams best season yet. Jefferson has put up 20 and 10's with a terrible Minnesota team. What will he do with an All-Star point guard? If AK-47 can stay healthy and the Jazz get decent contributions from CJ Miles (who's also coming off of his best season) and new draft pick Gordon Hayward, Utah could be very dangerous. The Jazz will be debuting their new uniforms with a strong push in the playoffs.

4 - Oklahoma City Thunder
    The Durantula and OKC provided the toughest challenge for the Lakers in the western conference playoffs last season. That was only the first round. Westbrook and Durant provide the best PG, SF duo combo in the league. They acquired Morris Peterson and made moves in the draft to get Kansas big man Cole Aldrich. With Durant making a strong MVP run again, and Westbrook getting better I see a very similar Jordan-Pippen team here.  I think the Northwest division will be the most competitive this coming season which could fair badly for those who don't win the division because the rest of the conference is just as competitive. However OKC will be good enough to claim a first round home court advantage series. The future is bright for the Thunder. Maybe just a little more of a supporting cast could get them atop the conference in the next couple years.

5- Denver Nuggets
     Denver didn't do much in the off-season. They still haven't resigned Carmelo Anthony and it's not looking like they will. They did acquire Al Harrington to their supporting cast though. I don't really see much of an improvement to their team with the addition of Harrington. Billups is starting to get to the peak of his career (if he hasn't reached it already). Starting to become an old man of the NBA but with all due respect I believe he's still one of the best PG's in the league. Melo is melo. The frontcourt is where the questions for Denver pop up. K-Mart, and the Birdman both have struggled with injuries. Nene has put up decent numbers but I dont see enough from the Nuggets to get them a top 4 seed. Their youth in Ty Lawson, Aron Afflalo and JR Smith will be the X-Factor for getting them this far in a competitive Northwest Division. Portland will be right on their heels.  

6 - San Antonio Spurs
     Thre are many questions regarding the Spurs. They didn't really improve much this offseason either. They reached the 7th seed in the playoffs this last season but they also struggled with injuries throughout the regular season. Manu Ginobili is their most dangerous player. Tony Parker was out alot last year with an injury and that gave George Hill room to blossom. So there's talk of trading Parker because of that. With that tandem at PG I think they will still have enough to make the playoffs. They did lose Roger Mason who made big solid contributions. Duncan is nearing the tail end of his career. Richard Jefferson needs to improve off of his extremely disappointing 2009-10 season. If that happens, look for San Antonio here. As the 7 seed last year they upset the 2 seeded Mavericks. So the championship experience is still there.

7 - Portland Trail Blazers
     The Blazers are young and inexperienced. Some would say they're cursed. They've had so many injuries the past few years. All-Star Brandon Roy, the face of the franchise has even caught the injury bug. Greg Oden has become good friends with the bench because of injuries too. If they can get through those injury woes, Portland can be dangerous. Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, and Marcus Camby headline the veteran experience for this young team. LeMarcus Aldridge has alot of upside and he remained healthy all year last season. Portland also added sharp shooter Luke Babbitt from Nevada and signed Wesley Matthews to a disgustingly high contract. The Blazers have everything they need to be a top 4 seed. But I don't see it this coming year. With all the injuries and new key players in Babbitt and Matthews they will all still need to find themselves as a team. It will take more than a season for that to happen. But don't be surprised if they end up higher than seven.

8 - New Orleans Hornets
 The spot for the eighth seed is going to be a close one. Of course the Suns will be in the running but losing Amare and replacing him with virtually nobody is a huge blow. He was the X-Factor for Phoenix last season. Turkoglu will have a great year but I'm not sure the Suns have enough to make it. I believe the LA Clippers could also land here. Memphis is another team in the running. Houston took 9th last year but even if Yao does come back healthy, I still see the Hornets here at eight. Chris Paul is back for sure now. No more questions after the Darren Collison trade. I love the addition of Trevor Ariza. Marcus Thornton was a stud last season and he could start at the 2. Paul, Thornton, Ariza, David West and Emeka Okafor will be a solid starting lineup. Peja the sixth man and newbies Quincy Pondexter and Craig Brackins will get some playing time too. New Orleans will rebound after a disappointing injury filled season. But they still don't have enough to get any higher than the 8th seed. Even with CP3 running the show.

First Round
1 Lakers beat 8 Hornets 4-1
2 Mavs beat 7 Blazers 4-2
3 Jazz beat 6 Spurs 4-2
4 Thunder beat 5 Nuggets 4-3

1 Lakers beat 4 Thunder 4-3
3 Jazz beat 2 Mavs 4-2

1 Lakers beat 3 Jazz 4-3

     I know I said before that the Mavericks have the best matchup for the Lakers with their own smaller and less prominent big three, but I still think Utah has the edge over them. Home Court advantage means nothing for the Mavericks. Last season they had about the same record at home than they did on the road and that served as a negative aspect for them as San Antonio upset them. I think Utah is too powerful for Dallas. Deron Williams will have the edge over the aging Jason Kidd and he usually plays with a chip on his shoulder in his hometown of Dallas. Also, Okur, Jefferson, AK-47 and Millsap are just better than Chandler, Haywood and Marion. Dirk will still do his thing but Utah's frontcourt is too good for the rest of the Dallas frountcourt.
    The Thunder will provide yet another tough matchup for the champs but yes the Lakers will rise again out of the west after an extremely tough first two rounds. Utah will find themselves in the conference finals for the first time since 2007. The Jazz made an unexpected appearance there but got manhandled by San Antonio 4-1. Utah has since kicked the San Anotnio monkey off their back,  but this time the Jazz will fall to the Lakers who always seem to have their number. Having said that it will be a competitive series. Raja Bell will be all over Mr. Kobe Bryant. Deron Williams will be the star for Utah as there is really no threat for him at the point. It is the frontcourt that will make the difference in the series. Kirilenko, Millsap, Jefferson, Okur and Fesenko (if he resigns with the Jazz) still won't be enough to handle Gasol, Bynum and Odom even though I don't see Ron Artest being much of a factor. I see the home team winning each match and the Lakers make their run for another three-peat in the Finals.

All Conference Playoff 1st team

PG Deron Williams
SG Kobe Bryant
SF Kevin Durant
PF/C Dirk Nowitzki
PF/C Pau Gasol

All Conference Playoff 2nd team

PG Russell Westbrook
SG Jason Terry
SF Carmelo Anthony
PF/C Al Jefferson
C Andrew Bynum

Honorable Mentions

Mehmet Okur
Morris Peterson
Ron Artest
Jason Kidd
Caron Butler
Andrei Kirilenko

1 comment:

  1. Clippers, Grizzlies, Rockets, Hornets all ahead of the Suns? Really? Too bad you can't bet because I'd lay down cash that PHX both a.) makes the playoffs and b.) pushes for a top 4 seed. I can't say they are better without Amare but I don't think they're demonstrably worse (like, say, from 3 seed to 12 as you infer). Turkoglu will be in top 3 for Most Improved with Nash and Suns' wide open attack. And the Suns bench is arguably the best in the league. I think everyone in the West will be all bunched up again. We'll see what happens.