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NBA Western Conference Preview: Can Anyone Catch The Lakers?

Posted on October 26, 2010 by Dean Hybl

Can any team in the West knock off the two-time defending champion Lakers?

As we start the long drive toward the 2011 NBA Championship, all the attention is on the Miami Heat. However, the question remains as to whether the NBA’s new super team can live up to the expectations and dethrone the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Once the dominant conference in the league, the Western Conference still has many formidable teams, but with the biggest names now in the East, the West seems to be flush with good teams, but is there a great team in the conference other than the Lakers?

We start our 2010-2011 season preview with a division-by-division look at the Western Conference:

Northwest Division

After an impressive playoff run many are ready to anoint the Oklahoma City Thunder as the next wonder team in the NBA. There is no question that Kevin Durant (30.1 ppg) is a special talent and the Thunder has some great supporting players including Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. However, now that there are expectations for this team the question is whether the Thunder can take the next step and be consistent every night when they are the team people are gunning for?

The rest of the division is filled with teams with excellent talent, but question marks due either to injuries or player defections.

If everyone remains healthy, the Portland Trail Blazers have the talent to give the Thunder a run at the division. The same can be said for the Denver Nuggets, but the uncertainty of Carmelo Anthony’s future will likely be a tough distraction for this team to overcome. The Utah Jazz should be a playoff contender, but new addition Al Jefferson must be a consistent replacement for Carlos Boozer if the Jazz are going to reach that potential.

Predictions:
1. Oklahoma City
2. Portland
3. Denver
4. Utah
5. Minnesota

Southwest Division

The three Texas teams all have a legitimate chance to win this division, but it is unlikely that any are strong enough to make a run at the conference championship.

Does Tim Duncan and the Spurs have enough for one more run at the title?

At some point, the window is going to close on Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks. Despite losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, the Mavericks made few moves in the offseason. The frontline of Dirk Nowitzki (25 ppg), Caron Butler (16.3 ppg) and Brendan Haywood (9.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg) is still formidable, but the backcourt of Kidd (10.3 ppg, 9.1 apg) and Jason Terry (16.6 ppg) struggled in the playoffs.

The San Antonio Spurs also made few offseason moves, but after enduring injuries throughout the 2009-2010 season, just having everyone healthy would be a step up for the Spurs. The core of Tim Duncan (17.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg), Tony Parker (16.0 ppg), Manu Ginobili (16.5 ppg) and Richard Jefferson (12.3 ppg) is solid and youngster George Hill (12.4 ppg) is developing into another solid backcourt player.

Health will also play a role for the Houston Rockets. If Yao Ming is able to be affective for the entire season, then the Rockets could make a run at the division. However, even if he is unable to return to past prominence, the remainder of the young core should get the Rockets at least into the playoffs with a better record than their 42-40 mark from a year ago.

It wasn’t long ago that people were talking about the New Orleans Hornets much like they are the Oklahoma City Thunder this year. However, the Hornets have taken backward steps and now there are questions as to whether star guard Chris Paul (18.7 ppg, 10.7 apg) will be around for the long-term.

The Memphis Grizzlies could be a sleeper team if they continue to emerge and develop. Zach Randolph (20.8 ppg, 11.7 rpg) and Rudy Gay (19.6 ppg) put up big numbers, but the backcourt of Mike Conley (12 ppg, 5.3 apg) and O.J. Mayo (17.5 ppg)is what will determine if this team can take the next step and become a playoff contender.

Predictions:

1.    Dallas Mavericks
2.    San Antonio Spurs
3.    Memphis Grizzlies
4.    Houston Rockets
5.    New Orleans Hornets

Pacific Division

It is already clear that the Los Angeles Lakers are the class of the conference, but they could have an advantage as they cruise toward the 2011 NBA playoffs because they play in one of the weaker divisions in the NBA. Only the Pheonix Suns joined the Lakers with a winning record last season and the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire will certainly knock them down a peg. The hope for Pheonix is that new addition Hedo Turkoglu (11.3 ppg) can regain some of the magic he displayed in helping the Orlando Magic reach the NBA Finals two years ago.

The Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors will both be better in 2011, but that means they could sneak into the playoffs, not contend for a division or conference title.

The Clippers could be on the rise if Blake Griffin is able to stay healthy and live up to his potential. With Baron Davis (15.3 ppg), Eric Gordon (16.9 ppg) and Chris Kaman (18.5 ppg) also in the lineup, the Clippers could at least create some buzz this season.

Predictions

1.    Los Angeles Lakers
2.    Phoenix Suns
3.    Los Angeles Clippers
4.    Golden State Warriors
5.    Sacramento Kings

Conference Championship:
Los Angeles Lakers defeat the San Antonio Spurs


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