As always we love to predict the top 8 seeds in each conference, and today we picked the West’s top eight. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be predicting the Eastern Conference top 8 until after the season starts because of Christmas gatherings getting in the way, but sometimes holiday obligations trump the blog!
1. Dallas Mavericks – It may be cliche, but the Mavs are the defending champs, so they’re the team to beat. They’ve always been strong in the regular season, so I see them cruising to the #1 seed. They lost Tyson Chandler and the league’s whitest Latino, Jose Juan Barea, but they also added Delonte West and the second best rebounding Kardashian, Lamar Odom. They got Vince Carter too, but I’m not too sure he’s an “addition.”
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Everyone expects them to regress a bit after losing Odom, and missing out on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, presumably. But they still have Kobe Bryant. I’m not sure why they never address the point guard position, but I guess it’s not hard to pass the ball to Bean. I have my doubts about new head coach Mike Brown, but I think they’ll still be dominant in the regular season.
3. Seattle Supersonics – The team formerly known as the Sonics has got to be the best example of a team building through the draft ever. Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and co made tremendous strides last year, and there’s no signs of them slowing down. I expect to see Cole Aldrich in particular emerge this year.
4. Memphis Grizzlies – The Grizz were a surprise in the playoffs last year, all without top scorer Rudy Gay. They’ve lost Darrell Arthur for the year, but this team is deep. I expect breakout seasons from many of the Grizzlies’ players, including Xavier Henry, Josh Selby, Sam Young, and MCeezy lookalike, Greivis Vasquez.
5. San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs’ window is closing in many people’s eyes, due to the aging of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. But I believe that will be offset by the improvement of Dejuan Blair and Gary Neal. Gani Lawal and Kawhi Leonard are the wild cards here. If they perform, this team will be right back in the thick of things.
6. Utah Jazz – I’m going out on a limb here, but no matter who’s on the roster, the Jazz always seem to come correct. Al Jefferson and Devin Harris are an underrated duo, and Paul Millsap is a solid third option. We’re most likely going to see a breakout season from either Derrick Favors, Gordon Heyward, or Enes Kanter (if a breakout season for a rookie is even possible). I also expect a resurgence from Mehmet Okur.
7. Los Angeles Clippers – How can you not expect a successful season from the Clips, who’ve added former MVP, Chris Paul. The term “Lob City” is gaining popularity, because Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan are high flyers around the rim. They have three starting PGs in Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Eric Bledsoe. Caron Butler is the wild card here. If he can come back and regain his old form, this team could be even more successful.
8. Sacramento Kings – Call it a homer pick, but I think the Kings have a higher ceiling than the Warriors. Tyreke Evans, Demarcus Cousins, and Jimmer Fredette are a potentially lethal trio. They may take a while to gel together, but the last time there was a lockout shortened season, the Kings came out of it a playoff team, and the sky’s the limit for this young team. I’m not sure that there are enough basketballs to go around for guys like John Salmons and Marcus Thornton though. The failed physical and subsequent voided contract of Chuck Hayes hurts a bit, but they have more cap room than any other team, so I expect them to bring in another quality big man, perhaps re-signing center Samuel Dalembert.
1. OKC Thunder – Perhaps this team isn’t quite ready to finish the season with their conference’s best record, but when I saw that clip of KD playing flag football with some local frat boys during the lockout, it catapulted my love for him to the top. Basically, I’m really rooting for this guy and the team he plays for. But it’s not like the Thunder finishing as the West’s top seed is very far-fetched. This is a team that’s improved on a yearly basis, and was one Dirk Nowitzki away from a trip to the Finals. With an explosive, athletic array of talent, and a lean, toned Kendrick Perkins, it seems to me the Thunder have all the ingredients to make a serious run at it this year.
2. Dallas Mavericks – Losing Tyson Chandler was big, there’s no denying that. He was the one piece missing from the Mavs during all their previous failed attempts at winning a title. When they got him, they won. But, picking up Lamar Odom is definitely going to take some sting off the loss of TC. While not as long as Chandler, Odom is long enough, and everyone knows he’s a character guy who excels on the defensive end. Basically, he’s their new Tyson Chandler. Plus, imagine how good Dirk, Kidd and “The Jet” are going to be when they go out there with the monkey off their backs? Dallas is playing with house money which makes them dangerous.
3. LA Clippers – Next year, this team might be #1. In just two pre-season games, this team showed a glimpse of how difficult it will be to defend them, and score on them. Their starting back court might be the best defensive back court in the NBA already, and if DeAndre Jordan improves defensively, watch out! He’s already a great shot blocker. Chauncey might fit the 2 perfectly on this squad, and his efficiency will skyrocket with CP3 diming to him. Speaking of CP3, he now has TWO guys who he can throw 14 feet high lobs to, and he’s already the best passer in the game. Not fair! Let’s just hope Blake Griffin is still suspect defensively, or else we can make it official now, we’ll see this team come late June. I think I drooled a little just writing about the Clips.
4. LA Lakers – I know Lakers fans are saying they’re still the toast of the town, but when you’re star seems to be entering this season at age 45 (in basketball years), your starting Power Forward has been deemed soft (again), and your young future star Center can’t stay on the floor for a season, putting them at #4 might even be a stretch. Plus do we really believe Mike Brown can coach this team? I haven’t even mentioned Kobe’s divorce. Well maybe the divorce helps Kobe, as he ends up being really mad and goes ape shit on the league. But the way he got turned back by DeAndre Jordan on an attempted dunk in the pre-season, I doubt that scenario is on the horizon.
5. Memphis Grizzlies – Don’t know how this team will survive long term as it seems everyone was handed out huge contracts, but for the time being, the nucleus of this squad was kept intact with the re-signing of the better Gasol, Marc. Memphis made their great playoff run last season without Rudy Gay, so naturally I would assume they’d be a better team with him, plus the gained confidence and experience from crashing last year’s post season. With all that said, I don’t think the Grizzlies have that “guy” who can take them to the next level. Finishing 5th in this conference is a great accomplishment for this team.
6. San Antonio Spurs – I admire a franchise that displays loyalty to the studs that gave them glory. So keeping perhaps the original “Big 3″ of the 2000′s TD, TP & Ginobili together is a class move by them. Too bad class does not reverse the effects of Father Time and Mother Nature. This team is old and their glory days are long behind them. This team is the Lakers of two years from now.
7. Golden State Warriors – Pending the severity of Steph Curry’s injury, I (again) really like our team this season. The Warriors have a ton of talent on the offensive end, our Achilles’ Heel has always been defending and rebounding. But there’s something in Mark Jackson that has me believing that will finally change this season. Hell, Andris Biedrins had 4 blocks against Sac in their final pre-season tune-up, but more importantly, he looked active and confident on both ends. He’s been quick to a lot of offensive rebounds this pre-season. What sets the Warriors apart this year from teams of the past, is our bench looks solid all around, and this is prior to the addition of Brandon Rush. Once again though, this is all pending the status of Steph.
8. Portland Trailblazers – The retiring of Brandon Roy puts a dampen feeling to not only Blazer fans, but NBA fans in general. He is a class guy off the court, and a silky, smooth assassin on. Luckily for the Blazers, in instances where they’ve drafted bad, or unlucky, they also drafted good and made solid off season acquisitions. LaMarcus Aldridge has blossomed in Roy’s absence and is an All-Star in my opinion. Who would of thunk Wes Matthews was worth every cent he got of that huge contract (thus far)? With young studs like Nicolas Batum and the addition of veteran Point Guard Raymond Felton, the Blazers have enough fire power to finish in the Top 8 this season. Where they go from there, is anyone’s guess.
1. Seattle Supersonics – There’s no such thing as sneaking up on anyone this year. KD, Westbrook, and Harden will continue to grow offensively, but I think the real tipping point will be the way Ibaka and Perkins can protect the rim. Ibaka showed tons of promise, and Perk was too injured to make a difference last year but will this season. I think the biggest question for these youngsters is can they handle being the target and whether their two superstars can co-exist.
2. Los Angeles Clippers – Remember when CP3 led the Hornets to the #2 seed a few years ago? Well, he won the MVP that season, and his team wasn’t nearly as talented as the Clippers team he’s currently on. I actually think with this cast, he will win the MVP this year if he can stay healthy, and will be one of the most entertaining teams in recent memory. They might need another big man to give Blake and Deandre a blow, but at every other position they’re deep, which is great in a shortened season. I just hope there’s no blown ACL for CP3 like nearly every Clippers PG goes down with.
3. Dallas Mavericks – It was interesting to watch them let Chandler walk. I’m sure they knew he wasn’t worth $60M, which is why I was kinda happy the Warriors didn’t end up with him. Odom going to Dallas was a pretty solid move for them. They also picked up Delonte West to help cope with the loss of Barea. I don’t understand why they only have one so-so center on the roster in Haywood, but this team always seems to be in the top 4 teams out west with or without a competent center.
4. Los Angeles Lakers – Another team that looks in flux. Can Andrew Bynum finally live up to his hype and stay healthy for a full season making him the second best center in the game? Doubt it, because he hasn’t ever done it. The worrysome part for the Lakers is their bench. They lost Odom in one of the worst trades ever, and didn’t find anyone that is worthy of replacing what he does. This team has almost declined enough to bump them out of the top 4, but not quite yet.
5. San Antonio Spurs – This might be a bad pick putting them this low since they were the #1 seed in the West last year. That being said, they didn’t really inject much youth into this aging roster. Tim Duncan might be healthier than he was last year, but we’ve seen him on the decline for quite some time. Will Tony Parker ever get traded? Seems strange they got rid of George Hill, and kept the older, more expensive declining Parker.
6. Memphis Grizzlies – There seems to be an uproar on Rudy Gay coming back and actually hurting this team. How can getting an All-Star back in the lineup hurt your team?!? Do Grizzly fans actually think Tony Allen is better option than Gay? There’s noway I understand that logic. I see Conley and Gasol taking steps forward, and this team is pretty young so that will help in those triple headers during the season.
7. Denver Nuggets – There’s only one reason I’m taking the Nuggets to make the playoffs and that’s because they are so deep even with some guys still hanging out in China. They played really good down the stretch last year after they sent Melo packing, and also dealt with Coach Karl’s medical conditions. That shows me there really is a team feeling going on in the locker room. Nobody really plays a lot more than 20-25 minutes on a given night, which is going to be a good thing with the upcoming compacted schedule.
8. Portland Trailblazers – There’s tons of bad news out of Blazers camp with Brandon Roy retiring, Oden missing nearly all their games (shocking), and Lamarcus Aldridge suffering some strange heart problem. That being said, this team always seems to overcome and sqeak their way into the playoffs. Felton and Crawford seem like solid additions to Wallace, Aldridge, and Matthews trio.