It’s time to go to the West, to the still better by far conference.
Last year, 10 teams had 50+ wins season. Four of them were from this division. So while being 1/6 of the league, it had almost half of the most successful teams in the league. To top it off, it was the only division in the league, that had all 5 teams playing in the playoffs. That’s very impressive number without a doubt and four out of the five teams, actually got better (on paper) this summer.
San Antonio Spurs
Last year’s record:
55W – 27L
Spurs were good as always last season, but no one is afraid of the Spurs, trying to win their first B2B title 🙂
I’m kidding of course, but the “season after winning the title” curse hit Spurs yet again, causing them to lose in the first round of the playoffs already, despite having 3 – 2 lead and hosting Game 6 at home.
In the summer, Pop and Buford did a miracle again, signing both Duncan and Manu to small contracts, instead of having them retired (though in Manu’s case, it’s maybe the time).
On top of that, Spurs did something that they have never done, despite all the titles they won, signing a top free agent, not to mention the best free agent of the summer.
This year that finally happened, when LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the team.
On top of that, Spurs also managed to sign David West, that walked away from 12 mill contract for the Pacers to play for veteran’s minimum in SA.
But it wasn’t all peaches and gravy for the Spurs. Green, Timmy and Manu gave Spurs home court discount, in order for them to sign LMA, but it wasn’t enough.
They had to trade Splitter, a player that fitted Spurs system perfect, but struggled on offense. He was sent for nothing to the Hawks.
On top of that, Spurs lost Bellineli that took a big contract in Sacramento and on top of that, they lost Joseph and Baines.
The last two, weren’t that important players, but with Tony Parker being too often injured and losing form season after season, Joseph proved to be a very capable back up point guard and not sure that Spurs can find third point guard of that level and they will need a good third point guard.
Baines not that important player, but basically, the only true Center on Spurs roster is the new arrival, Bojan Marjanovic (2.22 cm height!). He proved to be very capable player in Europe, but he is still a rookie and has his own flaws in the game. Great signing, but can he play 25+ minutes if Spurs need to play a true Center? I don’t know.
The pluses are easy to count and we can claim that Spurs already ready for post Timmy era, with LMA, Kawhi, Green and Mills core. On top of that, LMA and West give Spurs a lot on both sides of the floor and allow Pop to give as much rest to Timmy as he wants.
But, there are question marks as well. Spurs raised all their stars, all their players give Pop tons of respect and listen to him blindly.
LMA left Portland, because he felt he became Lillard’s side kick. He is a good teammate, but he has his pride and his ego. He joins a well oiled machine and he is the one that will have to make most of the adjustments to the new system and not the other way around.
Timmy, LMA and West are very similar players. All feel much comfortable few feet from the basket, all have very similar ups and downs. They give Spurs a lot of depth, but not versatility.
The fact that Spurs will play a lot of small ball, will have pluses and minuses as well.
We also keep waiting for the other shoe to drop on Timmy and Manu and with Manu and TP playing mediocre at best last season, maybe it’s about time, for Timmy to show signs of aging as well.
Still, you can’t count Spurs out of the title race.
54 – 58 wins in regular season and injuries, form and luck will determine how far will they go.
I believe they will come out of the first round this time, but if they will be stopped in the second round or go all the way, it’s very hard to tell.
New Orleans Pelicans
Last year’s record:
45W – 37L
Pelicans had a great season last year. Despite Jrue Holiday missing a huge chunk of the season and despite Ryan Anderson having amazingly bad season (that started with his girlfriend dying last summer), Hornets took full advantage of Thunder’s injuries plague and the fact that Davis became one of the Top 3 players in the league (just slightly behind LeBron and Durant) and reached the playoffs.
The summer, they did what was long due and fired Monty Williams and hired Alvin Gentry. Gentry is a very good offensive coach, that served as assistant coach on two of the best offenses of the past decade, with Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix and last year, in Oakland, for Golden State Warriors.
Pelicans are hoping that he will use his great experience as head coach and assistant coach with great offense schemes, while realizing that you can’t go much lower than 22nd place on defense, playing with Asik, Davis and Evans.
Gentry and Davis already working on three point shooting and there is no reason not to think that NO can’t make another step or two up, even in the hard West, but there is one (or actually one and a half) question mark.
As I said, Jrue missed 42 games last season. Gordon had his first healthy season in a while and overall, Pelicans have really bad luck injury wise – though they did choose to take some problematic players in health area to begin with.
Sixers were forced to pay 3 mill to the Pelicans, for not disclosing vital medical information regardless Holiday and that’s always a bad sign.
This season, we already see Evans, Poindexter and Babbitt missing significant time due to injures and season haven’t begun yet.
Pelicans, with all their pluses, are a 7.5 man team.
Will injuries play a big factor in NO Pelicans season and can Gentry improve Pelicans mediocre bench, where Ajinca suddenly is a crucial player?
As long as Pelicans are healthy, they can fight any team, even Houston and Memphis for the 5th spot in the West.
Pelicans should have 50+ wins season, but I doubt they will reach 55 wins. 50 – 53 wins sounds about right, unless bad luck with injuries kicks in.
I like Pelicans Over 46.5 wins that Pinnacle offers, but current injury plague kept me off the bet in the end.
Last year’s record:
50W – 32L
There is no much point to discuss what happened last season for Dallas, mainly because the team changed too much for it to factor too much.
What we did see is that Dirk is starting to feel his age and if in the previous seasons, his offense helped the team much more than how he hurt the team on defense, last season, it was almost even.
Cuban’s attempts to give Dirk a chance at the title are remarkable and so is the huge discount he gave the home team, but right now, after DeAndre Jordan’s fiasco, it looks like Dallas are a team without present and mostly without future.
Last season also proved that Parsons not an All Star and while he is a great player and a great teammate, he isn’t the one that can lead a team, after Dirk retires.
The other three starters surely can’t be the stars of the team as well, all three are new players to the system and most are either amazingly good roll players (Matthews and Pachulia) or cancer in a locker, much past his prime and still hold the starting point guard position (Deron Williams).
Chandler left Dallas, mad as hell on the organization and no one can blame him.
They traded/ gave up on the best Center this franchise ever had, not once, but twice, both times after one season only, in one case after winning a title and the second time, after promising him, that they have learned from the mistake the season before, only to go after Jordan in the summer.
Yes, Jordan did something that he should have done and Dallas are right to be mad. But, they didn’t do right by Chandler, going after Jordan in the first place, so maybe it was just karma.
With three starters coming off injuries, two of them off very bad injuries (Parsons and Matthews) and Williams, who been playing injured since leaving Utah (another case of karma playing big role), Dallas can only hope to stay entertaining and relevant, since being bad won’t help, as they gave away several draft picks for this roster.
Matthews was the iron man, but he suffered one of the worst (probably the worst) injury basketball player can have – achiles torn. If you will look at a list of players that came from this injury as good as they were before or even better, it will be a very short list. Much much much shorter than a list of players that became a shadow of what they once were and Kobe Bryant is just the latest example. He got 70 mill for 4 years and that’s way too much and together with Parsons, that’s a lot of money for roll players only.
Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the game and keeps reinventing himself, so it’s hard to bet against Dallas, but they probably the weakest team in the league in two positions, point guard and center – two of the most important positions in basketball (everyone knows that you start a team with a point guard and a center). Point guard position shows battle between Williams and Felton, both much past their prime and Harris, who can play both guards positions. All three can’t remember when they were in their prime and all three are injury prone. In the Center position we see Pachulia, Dalembert and McGee – nothing to add here (and nothing is needed to be added).
I respect (a lot) both Carlisle and Dirk and wish nothing but luck (and health) for Parsons and Matthews, but a team that has 50 wins ceiling, probably won’t reach it.
40 – 44 wins and probably make way to Utah/ Kings or the Lakers in playoff hopes (since Pelicans should take over Portland’s spot).
Last year’s record:
55W – 27L
While the whole world is changing, going small, focuses on three point specialists, Memphis remains the same. Grit and Grind is their moto and they kept the core intact, added few needed pieces and will be back this season, stronger than ever, hoping to reach once again, Western Conference Finals and this time, maybe even win a game there.
Last season we saw Pau Gasol coming back to life, with one of the best seasons he had since leaving Memphis and still Marc proved to be the better brother (in current form) and was a legit MVP candidate. The difference between Memphis with Gasol and without him was mind blowing without a doubt.Carter was brought in, to help with three point line issue and to replace Miller and he struggled to do so. Green was brought in, in the middle of the season, for spare change, but found it very hard to fit in, both as a starter and as a sixth player.
Final note about last season is the fact that they battled GSW for the best record in the league almost half of the season, before injuries and short bench drove them all the way to 5th place.
In the playoffs, Memphis proved their worth by winning very injured Portland, despite being injured themselves and after that, they lost to GSW in 6 games, but with all Grizzlies healthy, they actually lead 2 – 1 in the series (Games 2-4) and who knows what would have happened, if Conley was healthy in Game 1 or Tony Allen stayed healthy. As always, they aren’t title contenders, but no team in the league wants to meet them for a 7 games series.
Memphis won 55 games last season and actually became better this season. In a Conference, where the difference between 2nd and 6th place is one win only (Houston, 2nd, 56 wins, Spurs, 6th, 55 win), it’s huge.
Wright replaces Koufas – clear upgrade for the Grizzlies, though Kosta is a good player and Matt Barnes is the perfect fit for Grit and Grind and suddenly they have two Tony Allens to drive the opponent stars nuts. Green should be better this season, after spending the whole preseason and training camp with his new team and should help Memphis where they need the most – scoring.
Carter got older and Z-Bo is not a boy either, but I expect them to win at least 54 games and on a good day, they can even see a 60 wins season (but 54 – 57 wins is my prediction here).
Last year’s record:
56W – 26L
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure says the old saying and Rockets proved it with Josh Smith. Detroit tried to find any takers for Josh Smith and failed and so, without even talking about buy out, gave Smith the honor of being the first NBA player to ever be fired from his team. He was released via stretch provision and after short consideration, he signed with Houston, to play with his old pal, Dwight Howard. The duo understood each other perfectly and Josh and Dwight enjoyed many aleyoops between the two (Smith was passing, Dwight was dunking – in case anyone doubted). Houston went through many struggles with so many players missing huge chunks of the season. Beverley played 56 games and got injured, Dwight was on and off injury list and played 41 games only, Terrence Jones played 33 games only, Motiejunas 71 games (but missed the playoffs alltogether) and Papanikolaou played 43 games only and that on top of many small injuries that other players had.
On top of Josh Smith, they acquired Corey Brewer as well and it was a bingo for the Rockets and Houston not only finished 2nd in the league and avoided death battle in the first round, but also Harden finished a runner up in MVP battle and was chosen as MVP by the player awards.
In the playoffs, Rockets played very injured Dallas (that played without Rondo and Parsons) and won 4 – 1 and then played the Clippers as probably one of the weirdest series ever in the league. Game 1, Clippers without Chris Paul, team’s best player and not only won, but won easily. Game 2, also without Chris Paul, Rockets won, but Clippers had a shot at winning the game as well. Games 3&4, Clippers win by 25 and 33 points. Game 5, elimination game in Houston, Rockets stay alive and win by 21 points. Everything is ready for Clippers to break the curse and go to the Western Finals for the first time both in Clippers history and Chris Paul’s career. At home, they are taking care of business, leading by 19 points, with 18 minutes left and Harden on the bench. What happened then? Clippers curse happened then and they simply collapsed behind Josh Smith, Dwight and Corey Brewer’s (Houston had +32 points with him on the floor) efforts and turned things around and won, including 40 – 15 win in the fourth and final quarter!
Rockets took care of things at home (showing both Clippers and Spurs how it is done), but lost to much better Warriors team, after two very tight first games.
In the summer, Smith decided to bolt to the Clippers, who actually acquired Prigioni as well, but didn’t worry about that too much, since they got both Sam Dekker in draft, a solid role player and traded for one of the better point guards in the league (on offense only), Ty Lawson for nothing. Why nothing (or almost nothing)? Well, many reasons, but one of the main ones, Lawson can’t stay out of trouble and his arrest for DUI driving drove his price down. Lawson has many upsides, but mental side isn’t one of them and defense really not of his upsides. He can be 20 points a night player, but on defense, he will allow his opponent to score 25 and his main function on defense is escorting rival point guards to the hoop. He is too small to guard and doesn’t show even remote interest to do any defense.
Together with questions surrounding his ability to play next to Harden (they can easily be the only back court duo in the history that will score 50+ points a game, but actually allow their rivals to score more) and to play off the ball.
I think that a lot of question marks around Houston and the fact that Dwight injured (again) before the season even started, means that Houston didn’t get rid of their injuries curse.
This is a good team that can go all the way on paper, but 50+ wins in regular season and first round exit is my prediction for them, since GSW, Spurs, Oklahoma and LA Clippers should finish above them and there is no reason to think they can win a series without HCA.
Memphis Over 50.5 wins, 1.81 odds – Pinnacle
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Best of luck everybody!!!