Wild, wild west highlighted by Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix
Following Phoenix's suit, the West is moving toward a general run-and-gun offense. The teams that can actually do this have a shot at the championship. And once again, that means Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix. But key additions in Houston and Minnesota have at least two more teams eyeing the trophy in June. Here's a look at the West, with teams ranked in order of predicted finish within their divisions.
1. Dallas Mavericks
2005-2006 Record: 60-22
In their first full year under the direction of coach Avery Johnson, the Dallas Mavericks came within two games of a championship before falling to Miami. The Mavs return all their key players this year and look to make a similar run at the O'Brien trophy in '07. Perennial All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki has been the picture of consistent excellence Nowitzki has averaged 20 points for the past six seasons and this off-season owner Mark Cuban rewarded the German import with a lavish new contract. With Johnson's stout defensive schemes in tow and the offensive firepower of Dirk, Josh Howard and ultra-quick guards Jason Terry and Devin Harris, Dallas looks poised for another championship run.
2. San Antonio Spurs
2005-2006 Record: 63-19
After falling to the Mavs in the conference semifinals, the San Antonio Spurs are hungry for a ring. The Spurs are no longer just Tim Duncan's team; Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have emerged with Duncan as the Spurs's Big Three. Duncan looks to put an end to his declining scoring and rebounding The Spurs have the appetite for a championship, and will enter the year focused and passionate behind coach Greg Popovich. San Antonio will no doubt be a serious contender again come playoff time.
3. Houston Rockets
2005-2006 Record: 34-48
Last year, the Houston Rockets entered the season with championship hopes held up by superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but their dreams were soon derailed by injuries. The duo played just 31 games together between T-Mac's back spasms and Yao's toe/foot problems. The Rockets shook up their roster, after finishing second to last in points scored last year. Houston dealt Stromile Swift and the draft rights to Rudy Gay for Shane Battier, adding gritty defense and solid outside shooting. In a move gone largely unnoticed, the Rockets added super scorer Bonzi Wells late in the off-season. The addition of these stars in Houston has the Texas triangle looking as strong as ever.
4. New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
2005-2006 Record: 38-44
Led by the breakout of Rookie of the Year point guard Chris Paul, the Hornets put together a solid season despite the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Left homeless for much of the year, Byron Scott's squad was a playoff contender for much of the year, sneaking up on many opponents. Playing in front of the raucous Oklahoma City crowd has actually been a plus for the Hornets. The addition of stud shooter Peja Stojakovic and talented big man Tyson Chandler coupled with the development of power forward David West will be a plus. Matching last year's intensity and emotion may be difficult, but with Chris Paul leading the way, 40+ wins are not out of the question.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
2005-2006 Record: 49-33
Mike Fratello's Grizzlies face an uphill battle this season, as center Pau Gasol is out for the first few months of the season with a broken foot. The Spaniard, injured at the FIBA World Championships, is the center and face of the franchise, leading Memphis with 20.4 points per game and 8.9 rebounds. The return of Damon Stoudamire from injury and the emergence of outside shooter Mike Miller will help the, but the Grizzlies look to be one of the league's weaker teams without Gasol. Once Pau returns the Grizz will improve, but their losses before his return will kick the Grizzlies out of the playoffs.
1. Denver Nuggets
2005-2006 Record: 44-38
Camelo Anthony is coming off a successful campaign at the World Championships, an experience that will definitely help his game this year. The questions are down low, with injury prone centers Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Nene. Camby is a defensive monster, there is no doubt about it, but he only played 56 games last season. Coach George Karl is experimenting with newly acquired high riser J.R. Smith and Linas Kieiza at the 2-guard position. Smith looks like the front runner to be starter with flashy outside shot. The Nuggets also have one of the only true point guards in the league, Andre Miller, who may dish ten assists a game. Once Miller gets in the groove, it seems clear that Denver will come out on top in the mediocre Northwest.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
2005-2006 Record: 33-49
Kevin Garnett won't want a trade from this franchise this year. After landing the talented rookie Randy Foye and breakout star Mike James, the KG and the T-wolves have a chance of competing in the playoffs for the first time in three years. The team has offensive weapons to support Garnett in James and shooting guard Ricky Davis. KG won't have much help down low though; Mark Blount lacks post skills and Eddie Griffin likely won't see much time on the floor. It all comes down to KG's guards being able to ease the load and pressure off of him. Any regrets for not being able to feed Latrell Sprewell's family should be gone by now.
3. Utah Jazz
2005-2006 Record: 41-41
With Deron Williams running the point, the Jazz are ready to move forward. Williams looked sharp in preseason, making smart shots and skilled assists. Health is the only thing holding them back from a strong playoff season; Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer struggled last year with all sorts of problems. The Jazz are hoping that draft pick Ronnie Brewer will be able to solidify the two-guard position that has been shaky since the days of Jeff Hornacek. Can Deron and talented center Mehmet Okur be the poor man's Stockton-Malone duo? Coach Sloan sure hopes so.
4. Seattle SuperSonics
2005-2006 Record: 35-47
Guard Luke Ridnour and sharpshooter Ray Allen are both speedy and team oriented. Ridnour's defense is shaky, but backup Earl Watson complements his offensive mentality with a defensive presence. Re-signed power forward Chris Wilcox has new expectations; after leaving the Clippers for the Sonics, Wilcox improved his averages by five rebounds and ten points. Wilcox and power forward Nick Collison will be depended on also as centers; starting center Robert Swift just tore his ACL and is out for the season.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
2005-2006 Record: 21-61
Like the Bulls, the Blazers had an amazing draft by landing both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Roy is already a leading pre-season candidate to win the Rookie of the Year award. This team of young talent doesn't have much of a chance in making the playoffs, but will have several years to develop solid chemistry. If the attitudes of Darius Miles and Zach Randolph can be held in check, head coach Nate McMillan will be able to develop consistency the team has never had. Don't get us wrong though, Portland is still pretty pathetic this year. But maybe, just maybe, the team can develop its young core of athletes into a playoff contender.
1. Phoenix Suns
2005-2006 Record: 54-28
With the return of big men Amare Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, the Suns have nowhere to go but up. Stoudemire will be wary; micro fracture knee surgery doesn't have the happiest history, ruining the careers of many stars like Penny Hardaway and Chris Webber. Whatever the outcome, Shawn Marion and two-time MVP Steve Nash still hold the reins of the stacked team. The common question is "can Nash win the MVP for the third year running?" Most definitely. Not even a 100-point performance from Kobe can top Nash's new aerodynamic buzz cut.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
2005-2006 Record: 47-35
Three years ago the Clips were the laughingstock of the West, and arguably one of the worst professional sports teams of all time. Elton Brand has changed that, producing career highs with 25 points per game and 52.7% field goal percentage. His consistent play led the team to a tough seven game series with the Suns in the playoffs. Brand along with the board hound Chris Kaman will continue to solidify the Clips down low, while veteran Sam Cassell will mentor Shaun Livingston. The Clippers look to dethrone the Suns as Pacific champs and to hold the neighborhood rival Lakers in check.
3. Sacramento Kings
2005-2006 Record: 44-38
New head coach/DUI expert Eric Musselman and tempermental forward Ron Artest should be best friends by the end of the season. Musselman is drilling the idea of iron defense in his players and Artest's desperation for a fresh start in the NBA will lead him to an amazing season. The trade already has Tru Warier (stick to basketball Artest) eyeing Defensive Player of the Year. Brad Miller has been encouraged by his coaches to shoot the three more often, and he's ready to push his 15 points per game up from last season. Look out for shooting guards John Salmons and Kevin Martin to provide a nice defensive/offensive combo to fill the gap left by Bonzi Wells. The Kings are poised for yet another playoff run, but will likely remain near the bottom of the West.
4. Golden State Warriors
2005-2006 Record: 34-48
Donnie to the rescue! The returning, well-respected Don Nelson brings a faster offense to the table by going small in the starting five; power forward Troy Murphy will shift to the center position. The key for the Warriors will be to develop the four centers in the regular rotation and for guards Baron Davis and Jason Richardson to stay healthy. The Baron has only managed to play 90 games in the past two seasons, plagued by various injuries. Small forward Mike Dunleavy showed flashes of brilliance both offensively and defensively last year in the absence of the two guards, so he is set to get more minutes and have a bigger role. The Warriors won't make the playoffs this year as they adjust to the new offense, but keep watch as the team develops chemistry under Coach Nelson in the next two or three years.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
2005-2006 Record: 45-37
Your Los Angeles Lakers this year: Kobe Bryant, Kobe Bryant and some other guy named Kobe Bryant. Bryant, coming off of knee surgery, must improve on his 35 points a game or quit being a ball hog. Lamar Odom's all-around abilities should complement Kobe's game and newly acquired forward Vladmir Radmanovic can add the extra shooting touch the Lakers have been deprived of only if they are given the ball. Someone should just kick Kobe in his knees in opening week; that might give the Lakers a chance to develop as a balanced team.
Andrew Kung. Andrew Kung is a rising Magnet junior who is psyched for a year of Chips Online. He has lived in New York, Michigan, and New Mexico prior to his current residence in Maryland. As a cynical sports fan, he is not often disappointed, but not … More »
Nitin Sukumar. Nitin's middle name is Antonio Gates. More »