Predicting the 2012-13 NBA Western Conference Playoff Bracket

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2012

Predicting the 2012-13 NBA Western Conference Playoff Bracket

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    The 2012 NBA offseason has seen some big-time moves out West, and it begs the question, who will land the first overall seed in the 2013 NBA Western Conference playoffs?

    There are still moves to be made, but as of right now, we have a pretty clear picture of what each team will look like, as well as which teams will contend for supremacy in a competitive Western Conference.

    The Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs have to be considered the favorites to land the top spot, but there are a number of teams who have rosters talented enough to challenge the favorites.

    In a gritty 82-game season, nothing is guaranteed; but if things can click for the squads out West, they’ll be ready to keep their season going when the playoffs arrive in April next year.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Projected Record: 42-40

    The Minnesota Timberwolves may have missed out on their No. 1 target in Nicolas Batum this offseason, but a few key additions to next year’s roster should help this team sneak back into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

    Michael Beasley is gone and Derrick Williams struggled last season, but Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Andrei Kirilenko should all help improve this team in 2013.

    Kevin Love has become arguably the best power forward in the league, and behind his leadership and versatile skill set, the Wolves should jump up another level next year.

    That being said, one of the biggest factors of all just might be a healthy Ricky Rubio.

    The sophomore point guard was having an excellent rookie season before he went down with an ACL injury, and if he can continue to grow and continue to produce, he will be the second-most important piece on this improving roster.

7. Dallas Mavericks

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    Projected Record: 45-37

    The Dallas Mavericks began the 2012 offseason as one of the unluckiest teams in the entire league, but a few swift moves and a couple of big additions helped turn their fate around.

    Darren Collison is a good young point guard, Elton Brand will help provide a presence both inside and out and Chris Kaman will bring defense and rebounding to the middle next year.

    Don’t overlook the addition of O.J. Mayo, either. The 24-year-old has all-star talent and could see a spark in his production at the 2-guard spot in Dallas.

    Dirk Nowitzki is still the leader of this team, but as of next year, he’ll have a whole new group of players to help the rebuilding process.

    This team isn’t ready to return to the finals just yet, but they’ve made the moves to stay relevant and could be more dangerous than some people think in the 2013 postseason.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Projected Record: 48-34

    The Memphis Grizzlies are still one of the league’s best up-and-coming teams, but you have to wonder whether they made enough moves to put them into the upper-echelon of the Western Conference next season.

    The subtraction of O.J. Mayo from the roster could prove to be more of a benefit than a loss, but it also takes away someone with the potential to be a truly dynamic player.

    Despite adding Tony Wroten Jr. and Jerryd Bayless to the roster, Rudy Gay could very well take his game to the next level in Mayo’s absence.

    Gay has all-star talent, and with Zach Randolph producing from all over the floor, this team will threaten whichever team they meet in the first round of next year’s playoffs.

5. Denver Nuggets

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    Projected Record: 50-32

    The Denver Nuggets have a deep, talented roster that managed to get better this summer with the acquisition of Andre Iguodala.

    Don’t expect the 28-year-old wing to leap into superstar status in 2013, but he should emerge as a bit of a go-to option with the Nuggets next year.

    The Nuggets have bounced back nicely following the Carmelo Anthony trade two seasons ago, and as they continue to grow, they’ll continue to creep up the standings in the playoff race out West.

    This team is young and athletic, and with players such as Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried all having break-out potential, 2013 should be a fun season for any fan in Denver.

4. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Projected Record: 52-30

    The Los Angeles Clippers had arguably the biggest turnaround of any team last season, and the combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has become one of the most exciting duos that the NBA has to offer.

    The team made their return to the playoffs a year ago behind Paul, and while they weren’t able to get past the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, expectations will be high in Los Angeles again next year.

    One thing that was blatantly missing from the Los Angeles Clippers’ lineup last season was the clutch shooting and on-the-court leadership of Chauncey Billups.

    Along with the additions of Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Grant Hill, the Clippers will once again add Billups to their rotation in 2013.

    Whether or not they have enough to get past the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder is debatable at this point, but home-court advantage next season should be within their grasp, and another great first-round performance could give them the confidence to make some noise out West.

3. San Antonio Spurs

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    Projected Record: 57-25

    Gregg Popovich has an aging core on his hands in San Antonio, but with the ability to get the most out of his young prospects, the head coach should show us all again why he’s one of the best leaders in the league next season.

    Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are going to lead the way for the San Antonio Spurs, but players such as Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter will provide relief when Popovich rests his veterans.

    The Spurs have surprised a number of people with their ability to stay elite despite their age, and while enduring a full 82-game season could be difficult, they will also cause trouble for most teams on any given night.

    Without a major move sometime soon, the championship window in San Antonio might be closing; but as for next season, their veteran leadership and youthful depth will carry them to another solid year.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Projected Record: 63-19

    The 2012 Western Conference champions have kept their core group together and will undoubtedly be one of the favorites to come out of the West next season.

    Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have all grown from their time with Team USA, and their explosive offensive abilities will carry over into the new year and propel this team to success in 2013.

    The fourth piece of OKC’s apparent Big Four, Serge Ibaka, earned himself a four-year, $48 million extension this summer, and Harden will be playing for a similar deal in the final season of his current contract.

    If Perry Jones III pans out the way they hope he will, he’s going to be an extremely versatile player who can make this squad even deeper next year.

    For the Oklahoma City Thunder, the objective at this point has to be championship or bust. They made it to the big stage last year, they fell short to the Miami Heat and now they’re looking to get back; and they’re going to keep that mentality throughout the entire 2012-13 season.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Projected Record: 65-17 

    The Los Angeles Lakers have set themselves up for a championship run, and they should begin the process with the No. 1 seed out West next season.

    The move to bring in Steve Nash was arguably enough to become a contender in 2013, but the acquisition of Dwight Howard is what has made them the odds-on favorite to challenge the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    A 65-win season should be enough to earn the first seed, but the truth is, their record could be even better if the talent on this roster can click right away.

    Nash and Kobe Bryant have conflicting styles of play, but they’re both ready to win and they should be able to prove any doubters wrong once they hit the court.

    This team is built to win now, and with arguably the best Big Four that the league has to offer, they’ll find themselves in prime position to bring another championship to Los Angeles next season.

First-Round Preview

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    (1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (8) Minnesota Timberwolves: If the Timberwolves squeak into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed, they’ll be the unlucky squad to face off against the new-look Lakers next year. Minnesota is exciting and has a lot of potential, but the team from L.A. is ready to win big and should dominate with their talent and experience.

    (2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Dallas Mavericks: Any team with Dirk Nowitzki is going to be tough to defend in the playoffs, but the same can be said about Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The Mavericks have built a team with new talent for next season, and while they’ll be a tough team for most opponents, the Thunder are hungry to get back to the championship in 2013.

    (3) San Antonio Spurs vs (6) Memphis Grizzlies: Two years ago, these two teams met up in one of the more surprising playoff matchups in recent memory. The then top-seeded Spurs dropped the series to the No. 8 Grizzlies, and while history doesn’t always repeat itself, the younger, more athletic Memphis squad will be looking to play spoiler to the aging Spurs yet again.

    (4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Denver Nuggets: As entertaining as last season’s first-round matchup was between the Clippers and the Grizzlies, this battle could prove to be even more exciting. These two teams are about as opposite of boring as it gets, and they’re both ready to take the next step and challenge the teams atop the conference.