Breaking Down the NBA Western Conference in 2012-13

By Dennis Berry

Earlier this week we broke down the Eastern Conference. Now it’s the Western Conference’s turn. Last year the Oklahoma City Thunder surprised many and made it to the NBA Finals. Can they do it again? Here is our predictions.

Non-playoff Teams

Like with the East, let’s start with the non-playoff teams.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets tried very hard to get Dwight Howard, but never got a package together. When it was all said and done, they were able to bring in Jeremy Lin from New York. That will be enough to get this young team into playoff contention. There is some good young talent they picked up in the draft: Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, and Terrence Jones. Still, they are years away from being a playoff team.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Everybody is picking the Timberwolves to be a playoff team this year. There is plenty of talent there with players such as Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, and Kevin Love. They have solid pieces around them. The problem is seeing them stay healthy all year. Rubio is coming off a torn ACL and Roy has had problems with his knees. They will get close to the playoffs, but are still one year away.

New Orleans Hornets

The fortune of New Orleans changed during the 2012 Draft when they selected Anthony Davis & Austin Rivers. Then they resigned Eric Gordon and signed free agent Ryan Anderson from the Magic. The major question will be who will run the offense for the Hornets. They will be a much improved team in ‘12-13, but will still be towards the bottom of the Western Conference.

Phoenix Suns

The major headline for the Suns this offseason was that Steve Nash left for Los Angeles. Now it seems the Suns are caught in the middle. They have good enough talent to compete nightly. Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley will become the faces of the franchise and the focal points on offense. They will probably be in the playoff hunt, but will fall short.

Portland Trail Blazers

There is plenty to like about the Trail Blazers. They have one of the best power forwards in basketball with LaMarcus Aldridge. There is also plenty of hype surrounding their 2012 first round pick Damian Lillard. The problem with the Blazers is all their best players are young and will have to learn how to win in the NBA.

Sacramento Kings

The talent to win is there for the Kings, but when will they start to win? With DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and Marcus Thornton they have a solid trio to build around. Still this group has not proven that it is mature enough to handle the ups and downs of a full season. Once they learn how to win when the pressure is on late in the season, they will become a dangerous team.

Utah Jazz

Last year the Jazz claimed the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Then they were swept by the top seeded San Antonio Spurs. The strength of the Jazz is in the post. They have a strong trio in Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap, and AL Jefferson. The loss of Devon Harris at point guard will hurt them and take them out of playoff contention.

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose
Apr 29, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) and Paul Millsap (24) during the second half of game one in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. The Spurs won 106-91. Photo Courtesy By Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE.

Playoff Teams

Now here is how we predict the Western Conference playoff seeding will look like:

8. Golden State Warriors

Injuries were a problem for the Warriors last year. If they stay healthy, they are a playoff team. There is too much talent on their roster not to be. David Lee and Andrew Bogut will man the post. On the perimeter they will have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Brandon Rush, and Richard Jefferson. Plus rookies Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes will add depth to their bench. If they can stay away from injuries, they will be an exciting team.

7. Dallas Mavericks

One of the odd teams in the NBA this year is the Mavericks. Through free agency they have put together a team that could be a playoff team or miss it. We will buy them as a playoff team. They still have Dirk Nowitzki, one of the best scorers in the league. They brought in Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones, Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo this past offseason to remake their roster. They will join Delonte West, Shawn Marion, and Vince Carter in the main rotation. One aspect that will affect Dallas is the loss of Jason Kidd; he was the floor general and will be tough to replace.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Last season the Grizzlies were expected to make a jump towards the top of the Western Conference. They finished fourth in the conference last season, but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. In the offseason they lost OJ Mayo to Dallas, but still have the rest of the core that upset San Antonio in the 2011 playoffs. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are still going to be in the paint. Mike Conley, Tony Allen, and Rudy Gay will make up the rest of the starting lineup. The key to the Grizzlies' season will be if their young, unproven backups can step up and keep them in games..

5. Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets have rebuilt their team and once again are looking like a team on the rise. They were part of the four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to LA, but they acquired Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia in that trade. Iguodala is a player who could really do well in coach George Karl's system. Another strength of Denver will be their post play. They have JaVale McGee, who seems to be coming into his own out West, and Kenneth Faried, who is a rebounding machine. Denver also has great shooters and Ty Lawson and Andre Miller to run the offense. Denver is a team many will not want to face come playoff time.

4. Los Angeles Clippers

The reason the Clippers will have home court in the first round of the playoffs: Chris Paul. He is the best point guard in the league right now and he makes the Clippers a better team. There is plenty of talent for Paul to work with also. That starts with Blake Griffin, who is starting to show he is more than dunks. Eric Bledsoe and Chauncey Billups are great running mates in the backcourt, and DeAndre Jordan has showed flashes of being a great big man. It is the offseason additions of Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, and Grant Hill that add even more to a team that lost in the second round of the playoffs last season.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

Did the Los Angeles Lakers make any noise in the offseason? Of course that is the joke. They made two of the biggest moves when they dealt for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Instantly they shot too many people’s list for title favorites. We are not completely sold. First off we are not sure when Dwight Howard will be back. It could be until 2013 before we see him in a Laker's uniform. Then there is the question of how this team will work together. Is Kobe Bryant ready to give up some shots for Howard, Gasol, and Nash? That may depend on if Nash is allowed to run the offense and control the ball. Like Miami after signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Lakers will have some growing pains in year one.

2. San Antonio Spurs

Did you expect the Spurs to be anywhere else but near the top in the Western Conference? As long as Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are still on the team, they are contenders. There are plenty of quality pieces that surround their big three in Gary Neal, Patty Mills, Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, DaJuan Blair, Danny Green, and Stephen Jackson. It could be the best built team in the NBA. The team will be lead by Parker, who had a MVP-type year last year, and is expected to do it this year as well. The Spurs' main goal should be reaching the NBA Finals.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City reached the NBA Finals last year, where they lost to the Miami Heat. This season the Thunder will want to prove that last season was no fluke and get back to the Finals again. They will once again be led by the combo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. They are the best young combo in the league. Many like to put down Westbrook for taking so many shots, but he is the second best scorer on the team and still is able to create for his teammates. Durant will get his shots and should be close to the top of the scoring race again this year. James Harden should continue his role as the top sixth man in the league. The Thunder are young and have proved they can reach the NBA Finals. All they have left to do is win a title.

Like Miami in the East, until a team proves that it can knock out the best team in the conference there is no reason to pick against them. The Thunder will reach the NBA Finals.

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