NBA Preview: Pacific Division
The Pacific Division this year will be a fun one to watch. With the Clippers now established as a threat in the West, the Lakers seeing how they will fare without Kobe to start the year and the young ‘Run and Gun” Warriors team showing they are no team to mess with, we could see three teams come out of this division into the playoffs. Not to be forgotten are the Kings who will now have the presence of the great Shaquille O’Neal who bought a minority share of the team this offseason, and the young full of potential Phoenix Suns.
Los Angeles Clippers
Projected Record: (58-24) Strengths: Fast Break, Depth Weaknesses: Rebounding, Interior Defense
The Clippers finished with 56 wins a season ago finishing fourth in the Conference and looked to be a legitimate threat heading into the playoffs. ‘Lob City’ looked they could have what it takes to really compete in the playoffs for a deep run, however, they could not get through the Grizzlies, a team they upset in the playoffs a year ago. The Grizzlies were able to expose what was a main weakness of the Clippers a year ago, and that was interior defense and a general inability to shutdown a dominant big man. Keeping in mind the Grizzlies may just have the best frontcourt in the league, with a 1,2 punch of Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol , and a top-five PF in Zach Randolph, the Clippers could not handle the big men. Blake Griffin and Dandre Jordan were simply outmatched by the play of Gasol and Randolph. Griffin is clearly a great player in this league but he still struggles on the block on both side of the ball and Zach Randolph made him like a little boy in the paint in that series. With all that said and done, there is a new era in Clipper land and it is due to the arrival of Doc Rivers one of the best coaches in the NBA. If Rivers can instill the sense of urgency and unity on this Clipper team, especially on the defensive side of the ball, the Clippers could really be the threat that many have believed them to be. They parted ways with Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe but found suitable if not better replacements in Daren Collison (who backed up Chris Paul in New Orleans), J. J. Reddick, and Antwan Jamison. Finally, with Chris Paul leading that team on the court, this team is built to win and contend in the West.
Golden State Warriors
Projected Record: (55-27) Strengths: 3-Point Shooting, Fast break Offense, Rebounding Weaknesses: Injury Prone, Defense
The Warriors had a very good season a year ago, getting off to a really fast start, tailing off a bit in the middle of the season, and finishing fairly strong. They finished 6th in the Conference and upset the 3rd seed Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson make up one of the best scoring backcourts in the league and they are both still so young, a very promising feature of this Golden State team. In addition, if Bogut and David Lee can both stay healthy this team will be tough on all aspects of the ball. The addition of Andre Iguodala should certainly help their defense which was 19th in points allowed a year ago. On top of that, add in second year forward Harrison Barnes who had a very good rookie season and clearly showed he can be a key contributor to this team. The team added some depth in the frontcourt with veteran Jermaine O’Neal and 5th year PF Marreese Speights. The Warriors could pose a serious threat in the division and should certainly give the Clippers a run for their money for the top seed in the division.
Los Angeles Lakers
Projected Record: (43-39) Strengths: Post presence offensively, Cap room for future Weaknesses: Kobe injured, Vulnerable defensively, not much youth
The Lakers may not look as impressive as most are typically used to this season, but Kobe Bryant has the will and determination to return early enough in the season that they still could salvage the year and potentially make a run at the 8th seed. Last year, was obviously a disappointment for the Lakers as they brought together some big names in an effort to make a deep playoff run and they came up well short. In fact, they barely made the playoffs at all, and were quickly bounced by the Spurs. With Howard gone and all of the high expectations out the window, the Lakers could perhaps, in a sense, benefit from lessened expectations. With Jordan Hill returning form injury, the acquisition of Chris Kaman who is still a very serviceable offensive center, and Nick Young, the Lakers could hold their own offensively until Kobe returns. Not to mention, with Howard gone, Pau Gasol should have the opportunity to handle more of the paint and do more with the ball, which will benefit the offensive as a whole since Pau is one of the best passing big men in the league. On the other hand, the Lakers are definitely going to give up their share of points and they may struggle at times to find a go to player in the fourth, but if Steve Nash can remain healthy he can certainly provide some important leadership in late game situations.
Projected Record: (33-49) Strengths: Young and with potential Weaknesses: Lack leadership, defensive struggles, inconsistent
The Kings struggled last year to get stops on the defensive side of the ball finishing 30th in points allowed a year ago. On the other side of the ball, the Kings showed a bit more promise finishing 10th in points per games with just over 100 a game. The Kings made a few changes this offseason as they parted ways with once rookie of the year Tyreke Evans whose numbers have declined each year since his impressive rookie season. In his place will be the man he was traded for Greivis Vasquez who finished last season third in the league with 9 assists a game. With Shaq now holding a minority share of the Kings it is fair to assume that he is going to work with 23-year old big man DeMarcus Cousins who is undoubtedly has the size, ability, and potential to be a top-tier center in the NBA. If Shaq can truly work with Cousins and get him to mature a bit and play more under control emotionally and performance wise, the Kings could hit a positive streak and maybe surprise some people and make some real improvements. However the Kings are still very suspect defensively and they still are a few years away from turning things around. They were fortunate enough to land rookie Ben Maclemore with the 7th pick in the draft as he slipped further than many projected. The biggest aspect in the Kings favor is their youth. If they can get receive some good leadership and guidance they have the potential to become a solid team down the road.
Projected Record: (30-52)
The Suns finished at the very bottom of their division a year ago in the team’s first year without Steve Nash since the ’04-’05 season. This year will most likely be another tough one for the Suns organization but they are obviously in a state of rebuilding. The team added some good young talent this offseason to get really propel their rebuilding. Adding Eric Bledsoe via a trade with the Clippers was a solid move for the organization, while they also acquired Archie Goodwin in a draft day trade and selected Alex Len a 7’1” center from Maryland with the 5th overall pick in last year’s draft. Phoenix will still face many struggles this year but they have a lot of potential. So they still could improve record wise over last year’s team if they can find some early success out of their young players.