To see the Eastern Conference Preview, click here. And look for NBA playoff predictions at the bottom of this section. Now let’s get to it.
1) San Antonio Spurs– In my opinion, the Spurs have the best 5 player lineup of anyone in the league. Everyone knows about the Big-3 in San Antonio of PG Tony Parker, SG Manu Ginobli, and PF Tim Duncan. But the addition of SF Richard Jefferson is huge for this team because it gives them another scoring threat and a guy who can create his own shot. The Spurs have one of the best coaches in the league in Gregg Popovich and this team is deeper then they have been in years. If Ginobli stays healthy, then to me San Antonio is the favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of year.
2) Dallas Mavericks– A lot of people have written off the Mavs this year, and I’m not really sure why. Are they a title contender? No probably not, but they are still a very talented team that will push for 50 wins. PF Dirk Nowitzki is one of the 10 best players in the NBA and this team should really put up big point totals with a run and gun type offense led by veteran PG Jason Kidd. Dallas has a multitude of scoring options with Nowitzki, SG Jason Terry, and SF’s Josh Howard and Shawn Marion and they can play either big or small. They won’t get many stops on defense, but opposing teams will have trouble scoring with them. The Mavericks will be a playoff team and could do some damage once they get in.
3) New Orleans Hornets– The Hornets have one of the top three players in the league today in PG Chris Paul. Paul’s main sidekick is PF David West who is one of the best players that no one talks about. New Orleans management shipped out C Tyson Chandler and took on C Emeka Okafor’s big contract. Okafor certainly is an upgrade over Chandler and helps give them a more physical defensive big man. This team has some good sharp shooters still on the team and their bench is pretty solid as well. New Orleans isn’t in that upper tier of NBA teams that are capable of winning a title, but they are a strong team that will be in the playoff picture.
4) Houston Rockets– The Rockets look like a completely different team then the one that was on the court opening day last year. The team’s two stars are injured as SG Tracy McGrady is not expected to be back until some time in December and C Yao Ming is out for the season. If that weren’t enough, but Houston and SF Ron Artest parted ways in the offseason and the team brought in SF Trevor Ariza. It’s tough to say who the star on this Rockets team is, but they have solid talent so they will remain competitive, but it’s hard to see them making their way into the playoffs.
5) Memphis Grizzlies– Memphis has some talent on their roster, but they have too many guys who need the ball in their hands to make plays. The Grizzlies added PG/SG Allen Iverson and PF Zach Randolph in the offseason, but it’s unclear how the team will use Iverson while they are trying to develop young players at the guard position in PG Mike Conley and SG O.J. Mayo. Overall this team looks pretty deep with young talent, but that talent needs time to develop and they will need a few years to get to a point where they can consistently compete.
1) Utah Jazz– People forget how good Utah was when they were healthy last year. They have a great PG in Deron Williams and with the return of PF Carlos Boozer they add a low-post scorer back into the mix. The team also has back-up PF Paul Millsap, who was superb last year in Boozer’s absence and is an early candidate for 6th Man of the Year. They don’t have a great defensive big man, but the team all around is solid on that end of the court. The Jazz will be division champs, but they will have trouble going deep into the playoffs as getting past the Spurs or Lakers will be very difficult.
2) Denver Nuggets– The Nuggets won the Northwest Division last season, but a lot went right for them and this year Utah is healthy. Denver is led by PG Chauncey Billups, an excellent facilitator and defensive player, and the explosive offense from SF Carmelo Anthony. Head Coach George Karl will have to handle a lot of personalities, especially those of SG J.R. Smith, PF Kenyon Martin, and C Chris Anderson. But Denver still has a lot of talent and they are a playoff team, but don’t expect the same type of success they experienced from last year.
3) Portland Trailblazers– There are those who have fallen in love with Portland and think they are going to make the jump to being one of the league’s elite. Well I’m not buying into the Trailblazers just yet. I love SG Brandon Roy and think he is a star, but outside of him I am very unimpressed with Portland’s roster. C Greg Oden needs to prove he can not just produce at the NBA level, but stay healthy enough to just play. PF LaMarcus Aldridge is a nice player, but he is very finesse and the team’s new PG Andre Miller has already voiced his displeasure with the team. So why it is very possible that Portland could make it in the playoffs, I don’t see it happening.
4) Oklahoma City Thunder– There is one thing you can be sure about this season; the Thunder are going to be very fun to watch. Now they aren’t going to be a playoff team as they are a little too young, but they should be around the .500 range. SF Kevin Durant was phenomenal last year and he is still only 21 years old. Look for him to be even better this year and become one of the league’s premiere players. Oklahoma City has done an excellent job of surrounding their young star with other good young players such as PF Jeff Green and PG Russell Westbrook. Look for the Thunder to be better then most people think, but they aren’t quite playoff caliber just yet.
5) Minnesota Timberwolves– It was not a good offseason for the Timberwolves. Minnesota had the 5th and 6th picks in the 2009 NBA draft, but they were unable to sign the exciting PG Ricky Rubio and bring him over from Europe. The team does bring back star PF Al Jefferson, who was playing at an All-Star level last year before his season ended due to a torn Achilles tendon, and they did add PG Johnny Flynn through the draft. However, as good as Jefferson is there just aren’t enough pieces in place around him for the Timberwolves to be competitive as they will be one of the bottom feeders in the league this season.
1) Los Angeles Lakers– The defending NBA Champions are back in search of their second title in as many years. They still have one of the premiere players in the sport in SG Kobe Bryant and PF Pau Gasol was fabulous last year in his first season in a Laker uniform. A key for the Lakers will be C Andrew Bynum. Lakers coaches raved about how great Bynum looked last year, but he missed significant time due to injury so his progression was set back. If he can stay healthy and be a force in the middle both on offense and on defense, Los Angeles becomes that much better. The addition of SF Ron Artest could go either way, as he is immensely talented but he has had his problems on and off the court. The Lakers have a deep team and they are one of the five teams in the NBA capable of winning a championship.
2) Los Angeles Clippers– That’s right, the Los Angeles Clippers. The other LA team has not exactly had a lot of success over the years, but this year will be different. Now it doesn’t help that No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin is already sidelined six weeks with a broken kneecap, but this team is more then just him. PG Baron Davis is reportedly in great shape and expect him to bounce back from an off year last season. The Clippers also have young talent in SG Eric Gordon and SF Al Thornton and good veteran defensive centers in Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby. If the Clippers can survive the six weeks without Griffin, then I think come April they can be in the playoff mix.
3) Phoenix Suns– Phoenix is not the same team they were two years ago. While PF Amar’e Stoudemire does return this season to join up with former MVP Steve Nash and company, the supporting cast is much weaker then in past years. SG Jason Richardson’s numbers dropped quite significantly last year and the chances that 37-year-old Grant Hill stays healthy for a full 82 games appear slim. The top end talent on the Suns is still there, but in this high scoring run-and-gun offense a team needs to have a deep bench and a lot of players that fit the system well, the this Phoenix team lacks both of those things. They might contend for the 8-seed in the West, but I predict them missing out on the playoffs this year.
4) Golden State Warriors– The Warriors will be another of the NBA’s worst in 2009-2010. Golden State’s best player and team captain Stephen Jackson has displayed his frustration with the organization and asked to be traded multiple times in the offseason. First round draft pick, PG Stephen Curry, has struggled mightily in the preseason and he has yet to show that great shooting stroke that made him a top-10 pick. This team could develop in the coming years with young players all through the starting lineup in Curry, SG Monta Ellis, PF Anthony Randolph, and C Andris Biedrins, all of whom are under 24. But for this year, the Warriors will go through growing pains and will have problems being consistent.
5) Sacramento Kings– Sacramento is probably the worst of all the league’s teams. SG Kevin Martin is a scoring machine, but he is the only impact player on this squad. Rookie PG Tyreke Evans could develop into an explosive player but he isn’t there yet and the rest of the team is really nothing special. Sacramento will have trouble winning 15 games this year, so the only drama for Kings fans will be waiting to see how high a lottery pick their team ends up with.
(1) Cavaliers over (8) 76ers
(2) Celtics over (7) Heat
(3) Magic over (6) Wizards
(5) Bulls over (4) Hawks
(1) Spurs over (8) Clippers
(2) Lakers over (7) Trailblazers
(3) Jazz over (6) Hornets
(5) Nuggets over (4) Mavericks
(1) Cavaliers over (5) Bulls
(2) Celtics over (3) Magic
(1) Spurs over (5) Nuggets
(2) Lakers over (3) Jazz
East: (1) Cavaliers over (2) Celtics
West: (1) Spurs over (2) Lakers
Spurs over Cavaliers