Oh man, oh man, oh man, the NBA season is back. October (look, I know it’s November now, refer back to my last post where I reference my superhuman procrastination abilities) is one of the best months. The NFL and college football are in mid-season, the MLB Playoffs are in full swing, we’re all knee-deep in Autumn-ness, and the best ballers in the world are back trying to cross each other up and dunk on each others head. OH MY GOOD GRACIOUS, ALL THE SPORTS ARE HAPPENING! It’s a rather breathtaking time of year.
There are so many stories to follow this season: Cleveland is now a more ideal destination than Miami, Donald Sterling is gone, the Spurs are a year wiser (I refuse to say older; that team is timeless), the most hyped draft class in over a decade takes the court, etc. Hell, the parity in the Western Conference could provide enough content for a PhD dissertation. That’s where I step in, chock-full of opinions and turkey chili. I give you my predictions on what is sure to be a barnburner of a Western Conference race to the playoffs. By no means am I a PhD level scholar, but I’ll do what I can to provide some decent analysis.
1) Los Angeles Clippers
Two top–five players, one of the best defensive big men in the league, a title winning coach now in his second year, and a stable full of role players who are all pretty damn good at what they do. Could this be the year that Lob City puts it all together and gets to the finals? In short, yes. In long, hell yes.
Say what you want, but the Donald Sterling fiasco was the reason this team didn’t make it to the Western Conference Finals last year. I thought they were a better team than OKC, but a shit storm of that magnitude is bound to take its toll. Plenty of NBA insiders said the Clippers would never get over the hump until Sterling was gone, and low and behold that’s looking like the case. New owner Steve Ballmer, although a total spaz of a human being, seems to be solely focused on winning at all costs. Blake and Cp3 are one of the best duos in the league, with Blake getting better every season. The Spencer Hawes signing was underrated; it gives the Clips some quality front court depth, both three-point and foul shooting, and allows for some nice floor spacing.
The biggest questions for this team are chemistry and defense. The Clippers are one of the deepest, most talented teams in the NBA. J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are fantastic role players that fill out the starting lineup, and the Clips also boast an impressive bench with Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis, Jordan Farmar, Reggie Bullock, Ekpe Udoh and Hedo Turkoglu. Points will come in bunches for this team, along with plenty of Sportscenter top 10 moments and wins, and once they put it all together, defending the same way as they score, watch out everybody.
2) San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are my favorite broken record. Every year they’re a little bit older, and every year they come out and kick everyone’s ass. Watching them in the playoffs last year was poetry in motion. It was absolutely beautiful, brilliant basketball–the ball movement, the shooting, the boa-constrictor type defense. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet of gloriousness. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if this team is once again holding the Larry O’Brien trophy come June. Gregg Poppovich has firmly planted his flag into the NBA, claiming the Association as his personal land of conquest. He’s the best mind currently calling plays and has been the best coach in the league since Phil Jackson stepped away from his Game of Thrones sideline chair. The original big three, Timmy, Ginobili and Parker are all first ballot Hall of Famers who can all still take over a game when needed. Kawhi Leonard is the human version of the Kraken (it’s the braids, I’m sure of it). The entire team is one gigantic arsenal of shooters, defenders, and great passers, all locked up in the best basketball system on the planet. And along with being a monster defensive unit, the Spurs led the league last year in offensive efficiency. LOL @ ur dreams of beating these guys.
The only reason I didn’t pick the Spurs to be atop the Western Conference again this year, is because Pops is sure to limit minutes for the aging stars in order to keep them fresh for the playoffs. That will cost them a few games. But once playoff time rolls around, prepare yourself for a tidal wave of basketball violence and awesomeness.
3) The Dallas Mavericks
Welcome the to the Dallas Mavericks third act. The final push before Dirk Nowitzki cranks his David Hasselhoff tape full blast and rides off into the sunset. And oh man, what a productions this is gearing up to be. Nabbing both Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler in the offseason were HUGE gets. The Mavs have missed Chandler’s rim protection since he left for the Knicks, and Parsons is a dynamic, athletic wing who can space the floor and pile on the points. Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris make for a nice point guard tandem, and a focused Monta Ellis can be a monster. Lastly, this team still has Dirk Nowitzki who is still unstoppable and Rick Carlisle, who might just be the most underrated coach in the league, even with that shiny championship ring on his finger.
This team has all the firepower to be the best offensive unit in the NBA this season. Points will come early and they will come often, and good luck to anyone trying to stop them. I still think this team is a player away from being a Finals contender, but if they get him (I’m looking directly at you, Rajon Rondo), well, we might as well just start hanging the Western Conference Champion banner right now. The Mavs have plenty of trade bait, too, and an owner who has the balls to do whatever it takes for his team to get W’s.
4) Golden State Warriors
Splash, splash, splash, splash, splash! Can we all please stop with the best back court in the league argument? There’s only one right answer, and it’s the Warriors Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. If you’re a religious person, you’re only hope for stopping these two, is praying ad nauseam, hoping the heavens open up to smite them. Otherwise, the Splash Brothers are poised to unleash their own version of fire and brimstone on the entire league on a nightly basis. And oh yeah, this team also trots out Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala. That’s one hell of a starting five. And double oh yeah, their bench is pretty damn good, too.
New head coach Steve Kerr certainly has plenty of toys to play with. Though, outside of Mareese Speights, the Warriors don’t have a whole lot of quality size among their second unit. It’ll be interesting to see how Kerr handles the transition between his starters and the bench throughout the season. Golden State has all of the pieces to be a top-tier team in the West, and they’re certainly one of the most watchable. Expectations will be high, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a move to bring some more front court depth before the trade deadline.
5) Portland TrailBlazers
My favorite moment of last season was Damian Lillard knocking down a HUGE three point shot in the playoffs to send the Houston Rockets on their postseason fishing trip. Yes, it never should have happened, but holy hell, D-Lill showed the world that his testicles have their own solar system. I know I’m gushing, but I love that kid. He’s a local product, and he’s one of the best young stars in the league. This is the era of point guards; embrace it. The Blazers will go as far as he can take them. By no means am I discounting Lamarcus Aldridge, who’s coming off a career year, and belongs in the best power forward in the league discussion, but I feel this is Lillard’s team.
The Blazers have had the least productive bench in the NBA the last two seasons, and if they want to reach the next level that has to change. Losing Mo Williams has to sting a little, but adding Steve Blake and some front court depth with Chris Kaman will help. The offense will once again carry this team. However, if the Blazers can up their rebounding and defensive numbers, they could be be super scary, and could move up this list while snagging home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
6) Oklahoma City Thunder
Oh man, I hate writing this so much. It makes me a little sick to my stomach. There are few things I enjoy more than watching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go Super Smash Brothers on a team, taking their souls while simultaneously crushing their will to exist. They’re the best duo in the league and hands-down my favorite to watch, yet we won’t be able to see them together until around Christmas. Worst Christmas gift ever.
The Thunder are still paying for the sin of letting go of James Harden. They haven’t been to the finals since. And now, their two best players–the MVP and another top-five player–are out to begin the season. So, do we wipe our hands of this team and hope for a better outcome in 2015? Not so fast my friends.
Until KD and Westbrook are back, it’s all about treading water for the Thunder. I have plenty of doubts about their coach Scotty Brooks’ ability, but If they can hover right around .500, then I think they’ll be just fine. Serge Ibaka is still a fringe All-Star who can shoot and defends his ass off, and Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, and Reggie Jackson are all nice role players who should be able to shoulder the load. If OKC’s role players can step up, they’ll be just fine, but with how deep the talent pool in the West is, it won’t be easy. Once Westbrook and KD make their returns, I wouldn’t count this team out one bit. I’ll be crossing both my fingers and toes.
7) Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizz aren’t going to surprise anyone this year, but good luck trying to stop them. It’s only because the West has a black hole level of depth that I’m even ranking them this low. What I mean by this, is the Grizzlies have peoples attention, and we know the brand of basketball they’ll be playing night-in and night-out. It’s gritty, it’s nasty and it’s damn hard to beat.
The team’s heart and soul reside in their big men: Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They’ll rebound, they’ll score and they’ll keep opposing coaches up at night. Mike Conley has come into his own to become a fantastic point guard and floor general. Adding Vince Carter brings veteran experience, scoring, and much-needed three point shooting, but the wings are still the weak link on this team.
On a good night, the Grizz can beat any team in the league, and they’ll steal a few games, using suffocating defense and old-school low post offense on their way to the playoffs.
8) New Orleans Pelicans
This has as much to do with the Houston Rockets failing in the offseason as it does with the rising of the Pelicans. The Rockets losing out on Bosh while not re-signing Parsons or Jeremy Lin will prove to be a death blow to the Rockets playoff hopes. Yes, they can still score, and adding Trevor Ariza is an upgrade defensively, but the Rockets are a Dwight or Harden injury away from being as mediocre as it gets.
Now, onto the Pelicans. Anthony Davis is possessed by some sort of basketball demon. He’s like a hybrid of Kevin Garnett and Dennis Rodman, and he’s going to browbeat (HA!) the NBA for years to come. He’s 6’11”, he can shoot, he has handles, he can rebound, he can defend, he can pass, and he will swat your stupid shot into another galaxy whenever he feels like. Yes, I love his game, and yes he will be a top-three candidate for the MVP this year. He’s also only 21, and the entire league should be pissing themselves in fear.
The Pelicans also have a healthy Jrue Holiday back this season. It’s easy to forget that he was an all-star when he played for the Sixers, and he can flat-out ball. Thrown in Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson to the mix, and points should come by the dozens for this team. All three of those dudes can light it up at just about any time. Oh, and this team added Omer Asik this offseason to protect the rim, giving Ant even more liberty to chase shots and do this all season.
The Pelicans are still young and are probably a few years away from being serious contenders, but they’re good enough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. If nothing else, they’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
This season is going to be so much fun, you guys. I’ll be back later this week with my Eastern Conference predictions. Sadly, my beloved Utah Jazz are a few years away from joining this party, so I’ll probably just watch this on repeat for the entire season.