Southwest Division (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
Dallas Mavericks (55-27)
The championship window was on the verge of closing for Dallas just a year or two ago, but they have reloaded to become one of the best teams in the West. They are led by the ever-consistent Nowitzki and the aging, but still effective Kidd; these two are complemented by solid veterans and a cluster of young players.
Well on their way to their 11th straight 50-win season, the Mavericks have rebounded to once again become a legit force.
San Antonio Spurs (48-34)
Bending, but never breaking, the Spurs fell short in the postseason once again last year; however, they are still good enough to get there. Their veteran trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili don’t show many signs of slowing down, and for the first time in a long time, San Antonio infused some youth into their rotation.
Trending over the past five seasons, their win total has been 63, 58, 56, 54, 50. It may even decrease a bit more this season, but not far enough to knock them out.
New Orleans Hornets (42-40)
After several solid playoff seasons, the Hornets regressed, mostly because of Chris Paul's injury. With their superstar returning, New Orleans will be one of multiple teams fighting for the last few playoff spots.
What they need is health from CP3 along with contributions from a dependable supporting cast to avoid another season with a win total in the 30s. There might be too much uncertainty here for them to be good.
Houston Rockets (41-41)
Always capable of putting together a talented team, the Rockets come into this season with one of the deepest squads in the West. However, the health of the returning Yao Ming is certainly a question mark. If he isn’t back to what he was, I don’t see someone on this team capable of leading them to the postseason.
Martin, Brooks and Scola are very nice pieces to put alongside a superstar, but we saw Houston only finish around. 500 and out of the playoffs without their leader.
Memphis Grizzlies (36-46)
Though they played winning basketball into February last season, a late fold by the Grizzlies resulted in yet another lottery season for Memphis. On paper, they have both talent and depth at almost all positions, but their point guard play and ability to mesh with several egos (Randolph, Mayo, etc.) are both rather lukewarm in my opinion.
To be honest, they didn’t really get much better, so they’ll probably finish on the outside looking in, missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Northwest Division (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
Oklahoma City Thunder (53-29)
The Thunder were 1-16 at one point two seasons ago, but a tremendous turnaround helped them into the playoffs. Kevin Durant has quickly become one of the best players in the NBA, alongside the budding stardom of youngsters around him in Westbrook and Green.
They play in the West’s top division, but Oklahoma City is the best of the bunch and should finish on top.
Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)
Portland appears to be a postseason mainstay even though a lot of their young players haven’t developed as desired, as well as the myriad of injuries they suffered last year. They need better health from the great Brandon Roy and hopefully some from Greg Oden.
The Western Conference, though still good, doesn’t have many great teams, making this year an open invitation for Portland to take the next step into the elite and win their first playoff series in the last 11 years.
Utah Jazz (49-33)
With limited financial resources and their presence in a small market, the Jazz were able to offset their losses with the additions of good young players. Their leader, Deron Williams, now has a more youthful big in Al Jefferson. Jerry Sloan, one of the league’s best coaches, never fails to put a winning product of the court.
They are no longer among the conference’s elite teams, but will certainly to be able to crack the top eight, as they reach the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Denver Nuggets (46-36)
The Nuggets are one team on a bit of a decline. They may have a new look if they trade Carmelo Anthony at some point this season, but even so, they have enough veterans to be a competitive team in a strong conference.
They’ll get coach Karl back from health problems, but still need to limit bad shots, turnovers and players with unpredictable personalities. Denver should still be good enough to get there.
Minnesota Timberwolves (22-60)
For a team that acquired young pieces in trades and had many high draft picks, the Timberwolves have made awfully little progress over the past few years. Only 15 wins last season from a group that had a bunch of inexperience last season was to be expected, furthermore, they didn’t do much to better that win total this season.
Their futility is probably due to bad signings and questionable deals by their GM David Kahn, who will leave them stuck in the cellar.
Pacific Division (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
Los Angeles Lakers (60-22)
The two-time defending champs come into 2010-11 as the juggernaut in the conference and perhaps in the league. Bryant, Gasol, Odom and Artest don’t seem to be satisfied after winning the last two titles, and the organization did a good job of surrounding them with some good veteran role players.
The Pacific Division is a bit weaker, and though Los Angeles suffers some health problems now and again, the Master of Zen will take them to the Finals for the fourth year in a row.
Phoenix Suns (44-38)
From the lottery to the conference finals was a substantial leap for Phoenix. However, losing a star like Stoudemire may put a dent in Phoenix’s plan to repeat that feat. The burden falls solely on Steve Nash to become the unquestioned leader of this year, and he’ll have plenty of help with Phoenix’s astonishing depth.
They’d definitely make the playoffs in the East as they should be in the 40-45 win range, but life isn’t very fair when you play in the West, as the Suns will be on the bubble.
Los Angeles Clippers (39-43)
The Clippers should basically live up to the expectations that they never got a chance to last season. Blake Griffin will finally make his NBA debut, and after getting good seasons from Kaman and Gordon, Los Angeles’ second team should definitely be improved.
Two issues that may paint a negative light on the Clippers: the questionable coaching hire of Vinny Del Negro and the dreaded contract of Baron Davis. Once again, the "Clip Joint" is in the shadow of the "Lake Show” in L.A.
Golden State Warriors (33-49)
A coaching change may not entail a philosophy change as it has become apparent the Warriors are a poor man’s version of Phoenix with a high-octane offense and holes upon holes on the defensive end.
Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis make up one of the most talented back courts in the league, and the addition of David Lee will fortify Golden State’s front court. A roster in flux, a new ownership group and a tough conference will make it tough for them to compete this year.
Sacramento Kings (27-55)
The Kings are a team that was thought to be on the rise. However, they’ve struggled in recent seasons to make tangible progress. They have a number of solid youngsters in Evans and the rookie Cousins; however, they lack veteran leadership and stability at a number of positions in their starting lineup.
Only 25 wins last year locked Sacramento into the Pacific cellar once again, and the great teams of the early part of the decade aren’t coming back anytime soon for this bland franchise.
All-Western Conference First Team
C—Pau Gasol, LA Lakers
F—Carmelo Anthony, Denver
F—Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
G—Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
G—Chris Paul, New Orleans
All-Western Conference Second Team
C—Tim Duncan, San Antonio
F—Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
F—David West, New Orleans
G—Brandon Roy, Portland
G—Deron Williams, Utah
All-Western Conference Third Team
C—Yao Ming, Houston
F—David Lee, Golden State
F—Rudy Gay, Memphis
G—Manu Ginobili, San Antonio
G—Steve Nash, Phoenix