Happy NBA Opening Night! Who is ready for the 8-month sprint-athon that is the NBA season? Yesterday I previewed the bottom-loaded Eastern Conference. Today, the top-heavy Western Conference. Tomorrow? FLOP GIFS! Keep in mind, all previews were written to exist in a world where no injuries take place once the regular season begins. With that in mind…
These are the same teams that have been contenders for years. Eventually, one of them will stop contending. Someday…
1. LA Clippers
Last Season: 57-25 | 1st place | Second Round Loss to Oklahoma City | Donald Sterling
Vegas Wins: 54.5
It is an exciting time to be in Los Angeles. I mean, they film movies there!
In related news, the Clippers will be pretty good this season. Blake Griffin has apparently added a reliable jumper to his arsenal which is crazy. Can you believe that guy has time to practice playing basketball between commercial shoots? The Clippers are pretty much the same on the court as they were last season. The big important change they made was new owner Steve Ballmer who seems fairly excited to be a part of this thing. They should contend for the top seed. It’s just a question of whether or not they can finally survive the Western Conference Playoffs.
I wish I had been writing NBA previews for the last 17 years so I could just copy and paste the one I wrote in the late 90’s and replace David Robinson and Sean Elliott’s names with Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard’s names. The Spurs will again win 50+ games and again be one of the top seeds in the Western Conference. Many games will be won. Many rests will be taken. The only question is how many more years can they keep doing this? The obvious answer is forever.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Season: 59-23 | 1st place | Conference Finals Loss to San Antonio | Mitch McGary #21
Vegas Wins: 53 (57.5 before Kevin Durant injury)
Kevin Durant will miss the first month+ of the season so the world gets to find out how amazing Russell Westbrook is. (Spoiler: He’s really amazing.) The real question is, how good is the rest of the OKC roster? Andre Robertson played 10 minutes a game last season and now he’s starting. Sebastian Telfair will be asked to spell Westbrook. The Thunder replaced Thabo Sefolosha with Anthony Morrow who will add some much needed 3-point shooting. Durant’s time off should shine some light on the roster’s deficiencies, but they’ll make the playoffs and from there they have two of the best players in the NBA. They’ve been there before. They can go there again.
Not Quite Contenders, But Positive Thoughts!
Could any of these teams beat one of the top three seeds? Heck yes. Unfotunately, one of the other top seeds will likely be waiting in the next round.
Another perpetually good team. Is that all the West has? The ageless Vince Carter provides a scoring-friendly alternative to Tony Allen. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are still monsters inside. The Grizzlies have been eliminated from the playoffs in the last three seasons by the Clippers, Spurs and Thunder, in order. Memphis might be destined to be one of those really good teams that had the bad luck of being good at the wrong time. Or they could break through like the Mavs did a few years ago and catch the Cavs in the first year of their run! Worse things could happen.
5. Golden State Warriors
Last Season: 51-31 | 2nd place | First Round Loss to Los Angeles
Vegas Wins: 50.5
Shaun Livingston played (76) and started (54) the most games in his career last season. Now he’s moved back to California where his seemingly cursed career began 10-years ago. Livingston will give the Warriors a lot of help spelling Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Last season that was handled by guys like Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford. Seems like an upgrade.
Steph Curry will again be an MVP candidate. The only question is, can the team somehow get to the next level and be a legit contender? Can they get past the Clippers, Spurs, Thunder or even the Grizz?
6. Portland Trailblazers
Last Season: 54-28 | 2nd place | Second Round Loss to San Antonio
Vegas Wins: 49
This is the tallest team in the NBA. They’re going to win a lot of games. The Blazers are like a poor man’s version of the Spurs. This is a team that could have really used somebody like Shaun Livingston. Their starting lineup is as good as any team in the league, but there is only so much that Thomas Robinson can do off the bench.
7. Houston Rockets
Last Season: 54-28 | 2nd place | Lost First Round to Portland
Vegas Wins: 49.5
I thought the Rockets could make the Finals last year. Obviously, Houston had some problems. They couldn’t make it work with Omer Asik and now they’re thinner up front. Chandler Parsons signed with Dallas and now they’re replacing him with Trevor Ariza. This is not as talented a team, but maybe they’ll be a better team? I mean, they still have James Harden and Dwight Howard. Another good team that could maybe be, but really isn’t, a contender in the West.
Fighting for that 8-seed
These teams will fight for the 8-seed. Not everything has to be complicated.
Last year’s surprise team will have to deal with expectations this year. The biggest problem the Suns will have is finding time for their guards. Isaiah Thomas signed over the summer and he averaged 20 points and 6 assists on a bad Kings team last year. If everybody falls into place, the Suns should be able to sneak into the playoffs again. It comes down to whether you like the experience of the Mavs or the youth of the Suns.
8/9. Dallas Mavericks
Last Season: 49-33 | 4th place | Lost First Round to San Antonio
Vegas Wins: 49.5
The Mavs are the ultimate hodgepodge of guys who seem like they’ve been in the league forever. This is the third-oldest team in the NBA. The entirety of their youth comes from Chandler Parsons. Richard Jefferson and Ray Felton are on the bench. Jameer Nelson replaced Jose Calderon.
Maybe Next Year
These teams have a player who represented Team USA in the FIBA World Cup over the summer.
New Orleans Pelicans
Last Season: 34-48 | 5th place | Lottery pick turned into Jrue Holiday
Vegas Wins: 43
The Pelicans picked up Jimmer Fredette so there is absolutely no way I will be able to look at them objectively this season. In fact, it will take every bit of brain power I possess to write anything for the Pelicans that goes beyond “I hope Jimmer plays a lot!”
OK. The Pelicans… Anthony Davis is incredible, but they also feature three guys who were part of a really bad Kings team just a couple years ago. That can’t be a good sign. Omer Asik will team with Davis to make one of the best big man duos in the NBA and Ryan Anderson will lead the 3-point bombing bench. This isn’t a bad team. Unfortunately, they play in the West. Either Anthony Davis makes another incredible leap (how much more can he possibly leap!?) or the Pelicans have to wait for teams like the Spurs and Mavericks to regress, which might still be a couple years away.
Last Season: 36-46 | 4th place | Lottery Pick #11: Doug McDermott (traded)
Vegas Wins: 41.5
What is Kenneth Faried worth to your team? He was a monster in the World Cup. His supporting cast is sorely lacking, but not awful. Plus, Faried isn’t the kind of player who can carry a team. The Nuggets aren’t good enough to make a serious playoff push, but they’re also not bad enough to bottom out. They are the worst thing you can be in the NBA – decent.
Last Season: 28-54 | 4th place | Lottery Pick #8: Nik Stauskas
Vegas Wins: 29.5
Speaking of not being bad enough… The Kings have two of the players from the Gold Medal-winning FIBA World Cup Team USA. You know how many other teams can say that? One. DeMarcus Cousins may average 30 points and 15 rebounds this season. If he doesn’t, he’ll come pretty damn close.
They picked up a knockdown shooter in the draft so they can start thinking about moving on from Ben McLemore. They lost Isaiah Thomas who was really the guy who made everything go. They replaced him with Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions. Jason Thompson is still starting for them. This team will be its usual mess, but as long as they have Gay and Boogie, they will almost always compete. They’re just nowhere near the playoffs.
These Teams Aren’t in the East?
Because they stink.
Last Season: 40-42 | 3rd place | Lottery Pick #13: Zach LaVine
Vegas Wins: 26.5
The good news is that this team would dominate pretty much any Pro-Am as long as Jamal Crawford isn’t playing for the other team. Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins will probably create plenty of highlights. The bad news is everything else this season. They’re the sixth-youngest team in the league and at least two of them are Canadian. One of whom is Anthony Bennett. Thaddeus Young has been in the league for 7 seasons despite the fact that no one has ever seen him play. Ricky Rubio still can’t shoot.
This is the third-youngest team in the NBA. The good news is that they have exciting guards and have identified the future of their franchise – Gordon Hayward. Huh. Maybe it’s better to focus on the exciting young guards.
Last Season: 27-55 | 5th place | Lottery Pick #7: Julius Randle
Vegas Wins: 32.5
Kobe Bryant is not going to be a happy camper. The last time Kobe missed the playoffs, Chris Mihm and Chucky Atkins were heavily involved. That was a decade ago. This year Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin are involved. Watch as Julius Randle learns what it is to be yelled at by a grown-ass man. And Carlos Boozer is going to pump his fists on and-one’s down 20. People are going to joke about what Kobe Bryant is going to do this season, but they have no idea. No one does.