NBA Predictions 2011: Predicting the Western Conference Playoff Teams
With the NBA preseason in full gear, regular season play is right around the corner. As teams get ready to take on what looks to be an already wacky 66-game season, fans and analysts begin to look ahead to see who will end up being the winners and losers of a limited season.
For this very reason, I am going to predict all eight Western Conference playoff teams from the bottom up and will give reasoning based on the current 66-game season and the teams' situations heading into the season.
Hope you enjoy, and, as always, feel free to comment afterward.
8. Golden State Warriors
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The Golden State Warriors have a lot going for them heading into this year's season. They're young and talented and now have experience playing with each other.
With one of the NBA's best backcourt duos in Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, scoring won't be an issue; it will be tough to outscore the Warriors on a nightly basis even if they don't play a lick of defense.
But that's where newly acquired head coach, Mark Jackson comes along.
Once a feisty NBA starting point guard for the New York Knicks and many other teams himself, Coach Jackson knows a thing or two about playing hard defense. We know he will instill his knowledge into these young Warrior players.
As of now, the Warriors look to have a lot of upside; if they can manage to play average team defense, the playoffs are not out of the question for this young and talented team. Due to their youth and lack of injuries, the Warriors will also benefit from a shortened season, as they will gain an upper hand against aging teams such as the San Antonio Spurs.
The No. 8 seed is theirs for the taking, but who knows? The Warriors may have some tricks up their sleeves. So watch out for the Warriors, because they're coming.
7. San Antonio Spurs
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Let's be honest—it's a little weird to see the San Antonio Spurs so far down on this list, but as the cliche goes, every good thing comes to an end at some point.
The Spurs have nowhere to go but down. They are aging and all their starters are either nearly 30, or have already passed that grimacing age. Tim Duncan is fading and Tony Parker just isn't what he used to be—and no, it's not because of his ugly divorce with Desperate Housewives' Eva Longoria.
However, this does not mean that the Spurs still aren't a playoff-caliber team—because they are. This just shows how good this team really was; they're aging, but they can still overpower many of the NBA teams.
Don't expect to see the Spurs thriving in this shortened season, and please don't expect to see them win more than 45 games, but you will see them in the playoffs—just not in their usual form.
6. Portland Trail Blazers
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Out of all the teams in the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers are, bar none, the most interesting team. With Brandon Roy's retirement due to unstable knees, the Blazers are left with a more-than-viable team.
The signings of Kurt Thomas and Jamal Crawford have only made the Blazers stronger, and with newly acquired starting point guard Raymond Felton, this team could potentially have a lot of upside.
But don't giddy-up your horses yet, because a lot of things have to go right for this team in order for the Blazers to be successful.
For one, LaMarcus Aldridge needs to stay healthy and must learn how to be more valuable than just a stat-producer—he needs to learn how to be a leader.
Raymond Felton also needs to be a good fit in order for the Blazers to work. Last season, many Blazer fans seemed to be in agony when Andre Miller was their starting point guard, saying that he was too slow and too old to help the Blazers win, but please be careful for what you wish for. Felton is a young, talented and faster point guard, but he is not yet quite proven. For this very reason, Felton will indeed be the key to the Blazers success.
If—and this is a BIG if—Felton can repeat—or do better than—what Miller did last year, and if Crawford can fill that sixth-man role in a Blazer uniform, the Blazers can be more than a first-round playoff team. They may even be good enough to contend in a couple years.
With many variables in mind, only time will tell how the Blazers will do.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
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Without having seen the Memphis Grizzlies at full strength, a middle-of-the-pack-type team is what we can predict as of now.
With their star player, Rudy Gay, back, last year's dangerous playoff team could be that much better. But bringing Gay back into the mix doesn't mean the Grizzlies can do better than what they did during last year's playoffs, which was great in and of itself.
The team chemistry will determine how far this Grizzly team will go. They won't have to worry about the shortened season because they are one of the younger teams out there. Expect to see the Grizzlies easily make the playoffs and don't be surprised if they give a scare to some top-tier teams in the early rounds.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
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No, it isn't April Fools' Day—the Los Angeles Clippers will indeed make the playoffs and, mark my words, they will make some noise.
I'm sure we don't need to get into much detail about the superstar they somehow acquired from the New Orleans Hornets (Chris Paul), but let's remind ourselves that the Clippers did a good job of acquiring some good veteran players in Chauncey "Mr. Big Shot" Billups and Caron Butler. With this group of talented veterans mixed in with Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin, "Lob Angeles" may be in full effect this season.
This is, however, the Clippers' first season together, so there will be some rough edges. Still, the best Clipper season in the history of the NBA is not out of the question. Expect the Clippers to at least get past the first round; other than that, we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?
3. Los Angeles Lakers
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The picture says it all. The Los Angeles Lakers are in for a long ride. With a potentially new sheriff in town, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have a lot to be worried about heading into the unknown territory that is the 66-game season.
Their worries begin on the sideline: new coach Mike Brown, the loss of Sixth-Man of the Year Lamar Odom and an unproven bench. When it rains, it pours. I Thought it would be a nice time to throw in a cheap cliche, but it really does seem to be that way.
The Lakers are reaching the point where the other half of the hill is visible and they may need to grind out the year and hope to sign Dwight Howard in the offseason.
The Lakers still have enough gas to be a viable team in the West, but it doesn't look like a championship run is in sight for the Purple and Gold. Expect to see them get past the first—maybe second—round, but don't expect a title run anytime soon.
2. Dallas Mavericks
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It must indeed be an oddity to see the Dallas Mavericks reigning over the rest of the NBA, but it has become reality. The Mavericks may have given up their centerpiece in Tyson Chandler and their backbone in Caron Butler, but as Mark Cuban usually does, he found a way to get Lamar Odom for basically nothing and also acquired Vince Carter from the Phoenix Suns.
For the first time in NBA history, Cuban got the best of not only Dr. Buss, but the NBA as a whole; screwing teams like the Hornets and Lakers while he signs multiple key players.
Though it doesn't look like the Mavericks will repeat, they are still a Western Conference Finals team. With two of the best role players in the NBA in Odom and Terry, the Mavericks may surprise everyone with their new look.
Although giving up Chandler may have been the difference between contending for another title and just making the Finals, expect the Mavericks to once again thrive during both the regular season and playoffs. They have the pieces and experience to now be taken seriously and it will show this season.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
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Watch out, the Oklahoma City Thunder are coming, heading toward a potential championship run. The stars of one of the youngest, most talented teams in the NBA, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are ready to lead the Thunder to their first championship.
With Kendrick Perkins reportedly losing 31 pounds, the Thunder can only benefit from an even better production value from someone who has already won a championship.
The Thunder have all the tools to win the title this year. With more experience under their belt this time, the possibilities are endless for this young, up-and-coming team.
Expect the Thunder to seriously contend for a title this year—if they stay healthy and focused—and don't be surprised to see an even more improved Thunder team as a whole this season.