Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Comprehensive NBA Preview - Western Conference

This took me a bit to finish because at football season nears, the NBA becomes less and less interesting. You'll notice at the end I got really brief.

Pacific Division Preview

LA Lakers

I don’t think there’s any better place to start in the West than with the two-time defending champs. Everyone wants to debate whether the Heat surpassed the Lakers as the best team in the NBA (which of course they did), but I think it’s much more interesting to debate whether the Lakers are still the team to beat in the Western Conference. It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk for them to make it to the Finals in 09 or 08. It surely won’t be in 2010 either, with Kobe yet another year older and more banged up.

But you have to credit Mitch Kupchak – the guy knows how to assemble a championship team and how to play to Kobe’s strengths. After the 2008 title they lost Trevor Ariza, but replaced him seamlessly with Ron Artest. This offseason they lost backup point guard Jordan Farmar to the Nets, but replaced him with a nearly identical player in Steve Blake. They lost depth in the frontcourt with Josh Powell headed to Atlanta, but added Theo Ratliff. And along with re-signing Derek Fisher, they also made a key addition: small forward Matt Barnes.

Although Barnes has some confrontational history with Kobe Bryant, he’s a valuable addition to this team for two reasons:

1) He backs up the lunatic known as Ron Artest, who could jump out of a plane without a parachute at a moment’s notice;
2) He provides valuable minutes off the bench in place of 30-year olds Lamar Odom and Luke Walton.

Barnes is a energy player, an outside shooter, and primarily a defensive pest. Those are three essential needs for this Lakers team to remain in the hunt for the three-peat. In particular, Barnes gives the Lakers a defensive ace at the 3 position to pester guys like Durant, Carmelo and LeBron – all potential playoff foes.

There’s really not much else to say about the Lakers that isn’t already known – they have a top 2 overall player in Kobe, a top 5 big man in Gasol, and three players (Odom, Artest, Bynum) who are at least top 75 overall players, if not top 50. And with Fisher, Blake, Walton, Barnes and Vujacic, they go ten players deep without a problem.

They’ve won at least 57 games for three straight years; I’d expect that trend to continue for one more season. 59-23, and the best record in the West.


For a while, I’ve been saying that Amare Stoudemire is just an average player and Steve Nash made him great. I still believe that to be true. However, I think that Amare’s departure will be detrimental and quite possibly fatal for the Suns, and this is why:

Because Nash is now 36 years old. His best years are behind him. He’s still a great player and probably a top 10 point guard all-time, but I just don’t see him getting very far in the Western Conference with Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick as his primary sidekicks. Losing backup PG Leandro Barbosa is also a major blow.

One thing is for sure – these are not going to be Mike Dantoni’s Suns. The run-and-gun Suns are dead. Coach Alvin Gentry emphasizes a slowed-down and more fundamental offense and a greater focus on defense. Neither of these things fit Nash’s skill set. Lopez isn’t nearly the transition player that Stoudemire was, and is much more comfortable planted in the paint and shooting little hook shots. He’s just not a very aggressive offensive player and that’s not likely to change. Replacing Amare’s 23 points per game with the Lopez/Warrick combo is basically impossible.

The rest of the team is outside shooters. Literally. That’s it.

There’s Jason Richardson, who attempted 400 threes last year.

Channing Frye, who shot 392.

And newly acquired Hedo Turkoglu, who shot 289.

Oh, and then there’s Jared Dudley who shot 262, and Goran Dragic who shot 188.

And of course Nash, who launched 291.

That’s a lot of threes to go around.

The good news is that Phoenix shot the best percentage from downtown last season at almost 42%. If they can do that again, they’ll be right in the playoff mix and Nash will have another 10 assist season.

But here’s the bad news: the reason they shot 42% from downtown was because of all the attention paid to Amare in the paint. He is such an active and aggressive offensive player that he commands double and triple teams, especially with the brilliant passing of Nash. But with Robin Lopez in the middle looking like a frightened clown, let’s just say the outside shooters will have hands in their faces a lot more. A LOT more. And I think that long-range percentage will shrink down into the 35% range and the Suns win total will plummet as well.

Last year they won 54 games and were third in the West. This year that’s not going to happen again. But I don’t know how far to drop them, because I think Gentry is a really good coach. He coached the pants off Phil Jackson in the WCFs. So I’ll leave them in the playoffs at 48-34 for the sixth seed. One thing you’ll notice is that it no longer requires 50 wins to make the playoffs in the West.

LA Clippers

The NBA’s version of the Detroit Lions is no longer a laughingstock. Well, kind of. But not from a talent perspective, as they’ve quietly assembled one of the best frontcourts in the NBA and a pretty good tandem of guards. The maturity of 8th overall pick Al-Farouq Aminu at the small forward position will be paramount.

At the 4 and 5 positions, the Clips boast two guys who should provide nightly double-doubles. Chris Kaman became one of the NBA’s premier rebounders last season and scored 18 per game; and former college star and previously injured Blake Griffin is set to make his debut and should easily pour in 20 points per game unless he’s a total bust.

How good will Griffin be? That’s really the question. Coming out of college, he looked like a surefire second coming of Kevin Garnett or Karl Malone. But an injury can really mess a young player up, as can 5 million dollars. Let’s see what kind of focus and toughness Griffin displays on the court. If it’s anything like the way he roughed up U of M in the NCAA tournament in 2008 (he scored 33 and pulled down 17 boards despite a bloody nose) then the Clippers will be in mighty good shape.

In the backcourt, the Clippers have bearded Baron Davis and hot-shooting youngster Eric Gordon, who has been compared to Isaiah Thomas on more than one occasion (because of their Hoosier roots and diminutive frames). Davis is one of the lowest-percentage shooters in the NBA (career 40.9%) but that never discourages him; meanwhile Gordon shoots around 45.3% and is much less selfish. It would be smart for the Clippers to slowly work rookie PG Eric Bledsoe (taken 18th overall in the draft) into the starting lineup and place Davis on the injured list, whether he’s hurt or not. Bledsoe was a stud at Kentucky and his aggressive nature makes him a good complement to Gordon.

In the offseason, aside from getting two rookies in the first 18 picks, the Clippers solidified depth at the 2, 3 and 4 positions. They re-signed Rasual Butler, added Randy Foye, and picked up Ryan Gomes who could start at the 3 position if Aminu isn’t ready. None of these players are great, but they’re all serviceable. Gomes is a solid defender.

But Aminu wasn’t picked in the top 10 to sit the bench. The former Demon Deacon is a deadly combination of speed and strength and aggressiveness, which he displays on both ends of the floor. He’s an athletic wingman, something the Clippers need, and a defensive stud at the 3 position, something every team in the West needs.

Overall, this team should be improved in both on the court and in the front office. They finally parted ways with disastrous GM/coach Mike Dunleavy, and replaced him with Vinny del Negro as the coach and former soap opera actor Neil Olshey as the GM. The Clips are probably still one or two pieces away from being truly competitive, but I think they’ll sneak into the playoffs at 44-38 and set up an LA-LA first round matchup. Which will be loads of fun.


As I alluded to earlier, when you’re a small-market team like Sacramento, the only way to build is through the NBA Draft. Nobody wants to come to your team in free agency, even if you have the most money. But the Kings hit a perfect bulls-eye last year with 4th overall pick Tyreke Evans, and then made another great pick with DeMarcus Cousins with this year’s 5th pick. That twosome should make the Kings competitive for years to come and could have them in the playoffs as soon as this year.

But I think it’s more realistic for Sacramento to sneak into the playoffs next season, as they should start to surpass some of the West’s old and dying teams, such as the Spurs. For this season, a ten or fifteen game win increase should be expected, thanks to the development of Evans and the addition of Cousins as well as Samuel Dalembert.

The Kings weren’t very active this offseason, and only said goodbye to one player who played more than 20 minutes a game - starting center Spencer Hawes. But considering they replaced him with a much better player in Dalembert, it was an overall improvement. Plus Dalembert allows the 6’11” Cousins to play at the power forward position, where he should be more comfortable. Also, Dalembert’s skills as a defender means that Cousins doesn’t have to match up with opposing team’s best big man. They’ve been smart and careful about the way in which they develop their rookies.

Which brings me back again to Tyreke Evans, last year’s rookie of the year. In my fantasy basketball league, I picked up Evans a few weeks into the season, pretty much as soon as Kevin Martin went down with the injury that kept him out for 2 months. In November, Evans’s first month as the team’s starting point guard, he averaged 20 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. The next month he averaged 22-5-4. Then And then during March he averaged 19 points, 7.5 assists, and 7 rebounds. Not bad for a rookie point guard. It’s easy to see why Evans won the Rookie of the Year, and also easy to see why I won my fantasy basketball league.

For the season, Evans finished with averages of 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. How many other rookies in NBA history averaged 20-5-5? Only three: LeBron James, Oscar Robertson, and Michael Jordan. I don’t know what’s more incredible: that fact in itself, or the fact that nobody ever says that on Sportscenter. We’re talking about one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history, and yet Evans, because of his selfless demeanor, still isn’t a household name even among basketball fans. I define ‘household name’ by the question: has my brother ever heard of the guy? In Evans’ case, I would have to guess no. Which is a shame.

Here’s another mind-blowing stat for you: Evans was one of only three players this season to average the 20-5-5. Guess who the other two were …. LeBron and Kobe. Not Wade, not Carmelo, not Joe Johnson, not even Durant. But Tyreke Evans.

So that all begs the question: if Evans was that good as a rookie, how good might he become? Forget about supporting cast and all that, but just as an individual, if Evans improves even a little bit he’ll have to be in the MVP discussion.

Look at Derrick Rose – after a 17-6-4 rookie season won him rookie of the year, he followed it up by improving in each category. Or check out Deron Williams. His points, assists and rebounds totals each increased in each of his first four seasons. What about Chris Paul? His points and assists went up four years in a row too. So if these three stellar young point guards each got better in their first 4 NBA seasons, shouldn’t be expect the same from Tyreke? Maybe he won’t slap up another 20-5-5-, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised by a 23-7-4 (7 being the assists, 4 being the rebounds). He’s an effortless scorer and will have the green light to shoot. If he takes more shots per game or shoots a higher percentage (or both), his scoring numbers should be in the top 10 in the NBA easily. He’s one more great season from becoming a household name.

The rest of the Kings’ roster is … well … less than outstanding. Aside from the promising Cousins who draws comparisons to a young Shaq, there is Dominican Francisco Garcia at the 2 (an often injured outside shooter), Israeli Omri Casspi at the 3 (a 2009 rookie and the only Israelite to ever play in the NBA), and Cousins and Dalembert at the 4 and 5. It’s a very international lineup, which also features Yugoslavian backup point guard Beno Udrih, the former Spur, and small forward Donte Green from Germany.

One of the key players and a guy who will compete with Cousins for playing time is undersized power forward Carl Landry, who was acquired in a trade for Martin last February. Landry is listed at 6’9”, but he’s probably closer to 6’5”. He’s a great shooter near the basket, an active rebounder and an outstanding defender. Basically he’s a rich man’s version of Jason Maxiell, but with an offensive game.

Last season Sacramento won just 25 games despite Evans’s outstanding rookie campaign. This year, with the improvements in the frontcourt and development of Evans and other youngsters, I’d bet on at least a ten game improvement. I’m going to guess 37-45, but they’re just one season away from making a leap into the playoffs.

Golden State

Perhaps no team underwent a larger roster overhaul than did the Warriors, under the direction of new GM Larry Riley, who replaced Chris Mullin in 2009. Riley is a former assistant with the Mavericks and hopes to assemble a team built around depth and defense similar to his Dallas teams. But with run-and-gun coach Don Nelson still in town, it’s going to be a season of turmoil for the Warriors.

The good news is that Golden State retained its two best players – Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. Both guys are 6’3” mega-scorers (Ellis poured in 25.5 per game, sixth best in the NBA, while Curry scored 17.5, second among rookies); the difficulty will be how they share the load. One train of thought is that Curry’s emergence makes Ellis expendable, and a trade-deadline swap could bring some new pieces to Golden State. The other thought would be Curry at the 1 position and hope he develops into a pure point guard. It’s possible – he averaged almost 6 assists as a rookie including 9 double-digit assists efforts in the last two months of the season.

With Curry at the 1 and Ellis at the 2, Golden State should be able to score pretty effectively against anyone. But neither of them are strong defensive players to say the least, and thus Don Nelson should continue the legacy for which he has become known. Golden State scored 108 per game last season (2nd most behind Phoenix) but also allowed 112 points per game – the most of anyone. In a distant second was Minnesota at 107.

And then there’s the bad news. Virtually every competent defender on the Warriors’ roster was traded away this offseason. Kelenna Azubuike, a shutdown small forward, was sent to the Knicks; Raja Bell, a defensively dominant small guard, went to Utah; lengthy power forward Anthony Randolph also went to New York; rebounding specialist Ronny Turiaf was sent packing; and scrappy point guard C.J. Watson went to Chicago. The Warriors also said goodbye to two of their best scorers, Corey Maggette (19.8 per game) and Anthony Morrow (13 per game).

This begs the question … who is still on the Golden State Warriors? Well, for starters there’s Russian center Andris Biedrins, an excellent rebounder and a 7-footer. Biedrins missed most of last season with a nagging back injury but is supposedly healthy this season. And he’ll share the frontcourt with GS’s big addition – super whitey David Lee.

In a trade with New York, the Warriors basically unloaded years worth of draft picks to acquire Lee, a nightly double-double who’s still in his prime and will add hustle and size to a West Coast team built entirely on flash but no substance. Lee gives them exactly what they needed – an elite rebounder (12 per game over the last 2 seasons) and an adequate inside scorer. As an added bonus, Lee is one of the best passing big men in the NBA, which comes in handy when you’ve got slashing guards like Ellis and Curry.

So four members of the starting 5 are easy – Curry, Ellis, Lee and Biedrins. The small forward position is completely up in the air.

Most likely, first round pick Ekpe Udoh (taken 6th overall out of Baylor) is too large to start at the 3 position. Udoh is a 6’10”, 240 pounder who resembles a bigger, slower Gerald Wallace – he’s a phenomenal shot-blocker and great defender but not overly skilled on offense. Udoh will fill in nicely for Lee and for Biedrins in case the injury doesn’t heal quickly.

But that still leaves a hole at the 3. Golden State brought in Charlie Bell (a 2 guard) and Dan Gadzuric (a center) from Milwaukee and also added offensive-minded Jannero Pargo from the Bulls (another 2 guard). says that the 3 position will be filled by former Miami dud Dorrell Wright, who was drafted in the first round in 2004 but never amounted to anything. It sure seems like Golden State has effectively built a stockpile of 2 guards and power forwards, but lacks a true point guard or a small forward. Funny that the two most important positions in the NBA, especially in the Western Conference, are PG and SF.

So largely for that reason, and also because I think Don Nelson is a terrible coach, I can’t elevate Golden State to playoff-caliber just yet despite how much I love Stephen Curry. Last season they won a dismal 26 games; this year I’ll bump them up to 35-47.

PACFIC recap:

Lakers 59-23
Suns 48-34
Clippers 44-38
Kings 37-45
Warriors 35-47

Northwest Division Preview


This division is completely up for grabs, with four highly competitive teams plus the dreary Timberwolves. Let’s start with last year’s Northwest champs, the Denver Nuggets, led by Carmelo and Chauncey.

Denver was one of the least active teams in this summer’s hoopla. They retained their five primary starters – Billups, Afflalo, Anthony, Martin, and Nene – and didn’t lose anyone who scored more than 4 points a game, while bringing in Al Harrington from the Knicks and Shelden Williams from the Celtics.

One of the few interesting storylines regards the battle at the 4 position between Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington. It will also be interesting to see if Afflalo remains the starter and keeps hotshot J.R. Smith on the bench. With Ty Lawson, Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen and Anthony Carter coming off the bench, this is one of the West’s deepest teams from 1 to 10.

But it all hinges on Carmelo.

He’s got everything he could ask for – a great coach, a great point guard, and a great supporting cast full of outside shooters and big men who can draw double-teams. He’s not surrounded by gobs of All Stars, but he’s definitely in a situation where he can take his team to the Finals. Especially with the fading Suns and Spurs out West and the not-yet-ready Thunder and Kings; this might be the perfect year for Denver to challenge the Lakers for a trip to the NBA Finals.

But in order for that to happen, Carmelo is going to have to do something that LeBron James wasn’t able to do last year in Cleveland. Keep his head out of the clouds. Focus on this season. Stop making free agency plans. Don’t get too far ahead of himself.

We’ve all heard the rumors – Carmelo is going to join Chris Paul on an exodus to the Knicks next summer and give Miami a worthy foe for years to come. It wouldn’t surprise me if it happens. At this point it’s probably at least a 50-50 possibility.

But it’s still 2010, and if the Nuggets catch a few breaks (like a major Lakers injury) they could be the team to beat in the Western Conference. All Carmelo has to do is take this season one game at a time, play his best night in and night out, and give his all in the playoffs. If he does that and they still get booted in the second round, then by all means, go to New York. But don’t quit in the second round so you can leave town on a clear conscious. Don’t do what LeBron did.

Denver went 53-29 last season. At the very least, I think they’ll win another 50. I’ll stick with 50-32 and the fifth seed.


The Jazz are one of the most retooled teams in the West, but despite losing Carlos Boozer they might have actually improved this summer, as unlikely as it sounds. Here’s my reasoning:

-They were swept by the Lakers in the second round because they couldn’t defend the Kobe/Gasol duo. As great as Boozer is on the offensive end, he isn’t an elite defender in the post. And Utah had nobody who could contain Kobe.

Enter Raja Bell and Al Jefferson, two solid offensive players who are defensive specialists. Especially Bell, who has been known to pester and torment Kobe and players just like Kobe (i.e. Durant, Carmelo) for years.

-They were plagued by the constant, nagging thought that Carlos Boozer might leave. They knew he wanted to leave. It was only a matter of time. Now, they can finally move on.

-They added Butler hero Gordon Hayward in the first round to replace Kyle Korver as the outside-shooting ace as well as the team heartthrob.

-And most of all … Deron Williams is ready to make a leap towards serious superstardom in his sixth NBA season. Now that Boozer’s gone, Williams can finally emerge as the ‘alpha dog’ on the Jazz and I think we can expect improvements across the board. His 18.7 points and 10.5 assists last season were great numbers – worthy of being a top 10 MVP candidate – but this season I think he’ll finally eclipse 20 points a night and possibly 11 assists. I’ve been saying this for years but I’ll say it again – Deron Williams is the best kept secret in the NBA.

This year, as Nash and Kidd get older and Rose and Rondo aren’t quite there yet, I think Williams emerges as the NBA’s best point guard. With apologies to Chris Paul.

Last year Utah tied Denver with 53 wins. This year, despite losing Boozer, I think they’ll stay put and go 54-28.

Oklahoma City

If you know anything about my fantasy basketball endeavors from 2009, you know how much I love Kevin Durant. But if not, here is a brief synopsis of what occurred:

I drafted Durant in the first round, tenth overall.

Durant scored 30.1 points per game, and won the scoring title (the youngest player ever to do so), while making an NBA-best 756 free throws (150 more than anyone else) and leading my fantasy team to the championship. In fact, Durant’s 756 free-throws made were the most that any player has made in a season in 19 years.

From December 21 to February 24, Durant was simply breathtaking as he scored at least 25 points in 29 consecutive games - the second best streak of its kind, behind only Michael Jordan in 1986.

The scary thing about Kevin Durant’s league-leading 30.1 points per game is that it can be expected to increase. Durant’s field goal percentage was 47.6%, a good percentage but one that he can improve upon. And he attempted only 20.3 shots per game, fourth most in the league, and the fewest shots per game ever attempted by an NBA scoring champion. When guys like Iverson and T-Mac were winning scoring titles in the early 2000s, they were scoring 28 per game and averaged 27 shots per contest. Durant scored 30 per game shooting the ball just 20 times. Unbelievable.

Imagine if Durant improves his percentage to 48.5% and shoots 22 times per night instead of 20, and stays steady with averages of 4.3 three attempts and 10.2 free throws attempts per game. He would score 32 per game, and those are conservative estimates. Now imagine if Durant gets a little more aggressive, and starts hooting 25 times a night and starts jacking 6 threes a night (kind of like what scoring leaders have been doing for decades.) We could be looking at 35, maybe even 37 points a game, and he could potentially join MJ as the only player since the ABA merger to score 3,000 points in a single season.

But enough about Kevin Durant … the rest of the Thunder are pretty good too.

Russell Westbrook is an emerging star at point guard, a great passer and one of the best rebounding guards and also a pretty good scorer, especially in traffic.

Power forward Jeff Green is perfect for 15 points and 6 boards and tough defense.

And shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha from Switzerland is a nightmarishly good defensive player, earning Second Team All Defense honors last season. He’s inarguably the best defensive 2 guard in the NBA.

That’s four great starters – Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, and Green – and none of them are older than 26. If OKC can keep this core together, they’ll be good for a long, long time.

Then there’s the center position – a constant carousel between Yugoslavian Nenad Krstic, mediocre Nick Collison, and 20 year old Serge Ibaka, an excellent defender from Zaire.

And then there’s three notable bench players: last year’s third overall pick James Harden who backs up Sefolosha at the 2 and scores about 10 per game, backup PG Eric Maynor, a 23 year old scrapper, and the only 30 year old on the squad, Flint-native Morris Peterson, who will provide scoring, leadership and outside shooting off he bench.

This team has all the ingredients to develop into a contender for years to come– a superstar in Durant, a great young point guard, a great young coach, great defense, great unselfishness, and a great home crowd.

Last year Oklahoma City ranked as the 11th best defense and the 14th best offense; this year I’d be willing to bet they’ll be top 10 in both areas, and they should improve from 50 wins and the 8 seed to 55 wins and the #2 seed.

One last question – how many points will Kevin Durant score this season? My guess – biased as it may be – is 32.4. Which would EASILY give him a second straight scoring title.

Too bad I won’t be drafting him again in fantasy basketball unless I get the first pick …


The Trailblazers have all the makings of a fringe playoff team – good enough to win 45 games, but not quite good enough to win 55. That’s pretty much the bottom line.

The key of course will be the health and continued development of star point guard Brandon Roy. Last year Roy missed 17 games during the regular season with a knee injury that just wouldn’t seem to heal, and then missed 3 of the postseason games against Phoenix. This offseason he had arthroscopic knee surgery to replace a torn meniscus, and all reports are that he’ll be 100% at the start of the season. But reports always say that. I have my doubts. For a 26 year old, Roy has a lot of wear and tear.

But when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best hybrid guards in the NBA. He’s basically a 6’6” point guard with a great outside shot. He routinely averages 5+ assists while scoring 21 or 22 per game, and is one of the best rebounding guards at around 4.6 per game throughout his career. He shoots good percentages from all three areas, and perhaps most importantly, he’s an unselfish leader.

But for the fourth year in a row, Roy just isn’t getting enough help from his teammates. He has a quality point guard in Andre Miller (lifetime 7 assists per game) and a fine power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points and 8 boards) but neither of those guys are elite or even much above average. They’re good, but not good enough to push Portland over the hump.

What they need is quality guys on the wings. Guys who can shoot from outside, to take pressure off Aldridge in the middle and allow Roy to stretch the court and slash. Last year the primary guy was Martell Webster, who shot threes like a maniac and wasn’t very effective. He’s now on the Timberwolves, who keep acquiring mediocre talent. Portland is making strides in the right direction to improve their depth at the 2 and 3 positions, and this year will give heavy minutes to two 21 year olds: Nicolas Batum and rookie Luke Babbitt.

Batum is a Frenchman with good shooting percentages and Babbitt was drafted 16th overall from Nevada and was considered one of the best pure shooting rookies in the draft class. Batum should start at the 3, and Babbitt should play considerable minutes and shoot about 4 threes a game.

But the key acquisition that Portland made this offseason was a guy who might really make an impact in the playoffs. And that guy is Wesley Matthews, who you probably haven’t heard of. That’s okay. Most NBA teams didn’t give Matthews a second thought in last year’s draft, when he went undrafted through 60 picks, and bounced around to various summer leagues. But he finally landed in Utah, and quickly emerged into the playoffs. Not only that, but he was designated to guard Kobe Bryant. In the playoffs. And here’s the kicker: he totally shut him down. I mean, not completely. The Lakers did sweep the Jazz. But after the series, Kobe was heard calling Matthews “the best defender I’ve faced in years.”

For some silly reason, Utah let him slide, and Portland quickly snatched him up. This postseason, provided Portland makes the cut, expect Matthews to see plenty of time matched up against Kobe, or Anthony, or Durant, or whoever. He’s an elite defender and possibly the heir to Ron Artest’s throne.

I almost made it through this Blazers rundown without addressing the gaping void at center, otherwise known as Greg Oden. But alas. … he was picked #1 overall by Portland in 2007 (ahead of Kevin Durant) and in two seasons has played a total of 82 games, averaging 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. Not terrible, certainly not as bad as Darko, but this was a guy considered to be the surest thing at center since Shaq and a bonafide lock to break Hakeem’s all-time blocks record. Injuries, lack of confidence, and plain old stupidity have plagued Oden’s sad career and he’s just a few more years away from being cut and going down as one of the NBA’s worst ever #1 picks. Good thing the Blazers have Marcus Camby, a 36 year old who’s still one of the best shot-blockers and rebounders in the league. If Camby can pull down 10 rebounds and 2 blocks a game, that will mark his ninth straight season accomplishing that feat. Amazing.

For an overall prediction, I’m going to say 47-35, a three game drop from last year.


Worst record in the West. 18-64

Southwest Division Preview

They’ll win 52.

Miss the playoffs, win 37.

San Antonio
First year out of the postseason in a long time. 41-41.

Last year was a fluke. 34-48.

New Orleans
Bad season but it’ll be even worse next year when Paul takes off. 30-52.

Recap of the West:
Lakers 59-23
OKC 55-27
Dallas 52-30
Utah 54-28
Denver 50-32
Suns 48-34
Blazers 47-35
Clippers 44-38

Spurs 41-41
Houston 37-45
Kings 37-45
Warriors 35-47
Grizzlies 34-48
Hornets 30-52
Twolves 18-64

Playoff Picture

Lakers over Clippers in 5
OKC over Portland in 7
Suns over Dallas in 7
Utah over Denver in 4 (Carmelo quits so he can go to New York next year)

SURPRISE! Utah OVER Lakers in 6
OKC over Suns in 6
Utah over OKC in 7

NBA Finals: Miami over Utah in 5

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