X-Los Angeles Clippers 56-26 (2)
Last season the Los Angeles Clippers won 57 games in their first season under head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers changed the culture with the Clippers, but they still were unable to get past the second round in the NBA Playoffs. This season however the Clippers will have an ever fresher start with a clearer piece of mind.
During the NBA Playoffs last year it was revealed that former Clippers owner Donald Sterling had made some insensitive remarks towards blacks. Sterling’s remarks almost led to a boycott by the players in the NBA which led NBA commissioner Adam Silver to take control of the team away from him. A nasty court battle ensued over the summer which led to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer purchasing the Clippers this past summer for $2.2 billion. Ballmer is on the same page with Rivers while the players are once again focused solely on basketball which is definitely good for business.
Under Rivers, Clippers power forward Blake Griffin enjoyed his best season as a pro by averaging 24.1 points per contest along with 9.5 rebounds. Griffin’s mid-range jump shot continues to improve which will only help the Clippers chances in the upcoming season. But Griffin isn’t the only player in the Clippers frontcourt that has improved under Rivers. Last season Clippers center DeAndre Jordan led the NBA in rebounds at 13.6 per game. Jordan also averaged a career-high in points at 10.4 per contest and Rivers is trusting the big man out of Texas A&M to be on the floor more in crucial situations.
But the engine of the Clippers offense belongs to their starting point guard Chris Paul. Last season Paul averaged more than 10 assists per game for the first since joining the Clippers and aside from Griffin and Jordan, Paul has a litany of talent to get the basketball to. The Clippers will have tremendous depth this season that includes small forward Matt Barnes, shooting guard Jamal Crawford, center Spencer Hawes, and power forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
The Clippers shoud once again enjoy a successful regular season, but they are at the point now where they will be solely judged on what they are able to do in the NBA Playoffs.
Y-Golden State Warriors 51-31 (4)
Success does not always provide job security in the world that is professional sports. Last season Mark Jackson led the Warriors to their highest regular season win total in 22 years, but he could not get along with the front office in Oakland as he was sent packing. Jackson had a great repoire with the players on the Warriors and it will be an interesting task for Steve Kerr as he is the new head coach for Golden State to earn the locker room’s respect. Kerr has never coached in the NBA, but he does have basketball smarts that has seen him enjoy a 15-year playing career in the league that produced four NBA Championships and he also had a four-year run as the general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
The talent that the Warriors have will make Kerr’s transition to the bench that much easier. The Warriors arguably have the best backcourt in the Western Conference in point guard Stephen Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson. Curry and Thompson combined to average 42.5 points per game last season and you can expect more of the same this year once they get accustomed to Kerr’s offensive system which will feature some of the triangle offense in it. But Curry and Thompson each have the ability to get hot for deep stretches on the offensive end to put the Warriors on their backs. This season for Thompson and Curry will come down to how much faith that Kerr is going to put in them.
Warriors center Andrew Bogut is one of the best passing big men in the game of basketball while also having the unique ability to score from both the low post and the perimeter. But Bogut has not played an entire regular season in the NBA since his rookie campaign in 2005-2006. The deck is stacked at that position this season and given Bogut’s track record it will be important for Kerr to monitor the health of his big man this season in order to keep the native Austailian fresh for the playoffs. The Warriors also have starting power forward David Lee who is a member of the 300lbsofsportsknowledge’s all-effort team. In four seasons with the Warriors, Lee has averaged 18.2 points per game along with 7.2 rebounds and he has done most of this without having plays called for him which makes him the perfect compliment to Thompson and Curry.
With the Warriors depth, the offensive production of small forward Andre Iguodala dipped drastically in his first season with Golden State, but he was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team for the first time. Iguodala’s skills as an on-the-ball defender along with his long wing span will be vital for the Warriors against the likes of Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant and Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden who are two of the better perimeter players in the Western Conference as they both play for teams that Golden State could meet in the NBA Playoffs.
The Warriors could have the best bench in the NBA this season consisting of point guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa, small forward Harrison Barnes, power forwards Draymond Green and Marreese Speights, along with center Festus Ezeli as the group possesses, size, rebounding, defense, speed, and scoring.
In recent years the Warriors and Clippers have been battling it out for supremacy in the Pacific Division. These two clubs meet on November 5 which will give Kerr and idea of how his team will do this season and they should be a factor next spring in the playoffs.
Phoenix Suns 41-41
Last season under first year head coach Jeff Hornacek, the Phoenix Suns were the surprise team of the NBA as the only missed making the playoffs by one game. All season long the Suns overachieved, but will Hornacek’s group be able to do it for a second consecutive season?
There will be plenty of brotherly love in Phoenix as two pairs of brothers will be vital for the Suns this season. Last season the Morris brothers (forwards Markieff and Marcus) combined to score 23.5 points per game while point guard Goran Dragic led the Suns in scoring at 20.3 points per. This off-season, Suns general maanger Ryan McDonough signed the brother of the Suns point guard in shooting guard Zoran Dragic who can provide some more depth off of the bench.
Along with Goran Dragic, the Suns have starting shooting guard Eric Bledsoe as the two will combine to be one of the fastest backcourts in the Western Conference. This past summer the Suns acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas from the Sacramento Kings. Thomas is coming off of the best season of his brief NBA career as he averaged 20.3 points per game last season with the Kings along with 6.3 assists. It would not surprise me in any way if Hornacek attempted to use Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas at the same time in order to speed up the pace for the Suns.
For the Suns to hang in the playoff picture in the Western Conference they must find a way to do what they did last season which is to beat up on the bottom feeders which allowed them to fatten up in the win column. If not, then the Suns will get lost in the shuffle
Los Angeles Lakers 37-45
Last season was a forgettable one for the Los Angeles Lakers as they endured their worst campaign since they have called Southern California home. Now the unusual process of returning to respectability begins for the Lakers. Byron Scott is set to begin his first season as the head coach of the Lakers and he knows a things or two about the purple and gold as 11 of his 14 years as an NBA player were in Los Angeles. Scott also helped the Lakers win three NBA Championships as a player. This is the fourth NBA team that Scott will coach and some of his highlights include leading the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 along with being named as the NBA’s coach of the Year in 2008 when he led the New Orleans Hornets to the postseason. Scott’s challenge in Los Angeles will be to turn around a Lakers team that many feel is simply too old.
Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant is 36-years of age and he is coming off of a season where knee and Achilles injuries limited him to just six games. Bryant is arguably one of the more determined athletes that the basketball world has ever seen and he is out to prove the naysayers wrong and show them that he can still get it done. Lakers point guard Steve Nash is a two-time NBA MVP, but he is 40-years old and Scott must monitor his minutes while also relying on backup point guard Jeremy Lin to be more of the floor general this season.
Power forward Carlos Boozer has been heavily scrutinized for his defensive prowess; or lack thereof, but he gives the Lakers a threat in low post which Los Angeles lost when they parted with power forward Pau Gasol. It is just a matter of Boozer being able to blend in with Bryant on the court. The Lakers are high on their first round pick in rookie power forward Julius Randle. Randle is only 19-years of age and there will be a learning curve for him, but he has tremendous athleticism along with a nose for crashing the boards.
Last season small forward Nick Young led the Lakers in scoring at 17.9 points per game and they will miss his production to begin the season as a thumb injury will keep “Swaggy P” sidelined.
Under Scott, the Lakers will be facing an uphill battle this season as their first seven games of the year will be against teams that finished the previous campaign with a winning record. These are not your father’s Lakers and the fans in Tinseltown will have to get used to mediocrity.
Sacramento Kings 35-47
After eight consecutive playoff appearances, the Sacramento Kings have now had eight straight losing seasons. Kings head coach Mike Malone is in his second season with the club and he has a young team that is in need of some leadership. The Kings have a pair of viable scoring threats in small forward Rudy Gay and center DeMarcus Cousins. Gay was acquired by the Kings last season and in 55 games with the club he averaged 20.1 points per game. Cousins is coming off of his fourth NBA season which was his best one as he averaged 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Cousins is talented enough to be an NBA All-Star, but it a just matter of him getting enough recognition. The man that will be responsible for getting the basketball frequently to both Gay and Cousins will the Kings new point guard Darren Collison. The Kings will be Collison’s fifth NBA team and Malone is hopeful that he will be able to flash the potential that made him a first round pick back in 2009. The Kings also have a youngster at shooting guard in Ben McLemore that they are hopeful will continue to improve off of the 8.8 points per game that he averaged last season as a rookie.
Malone needs to change the culture in the Kings locker room as they have become accumstomed to losing. Right out of the gate the Kings will meet the Warriors, Portland Trailblazers, and Clippers in their first three games of the season which will definitely test the maturity of this young team.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth