By John Schmeelk
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This my Western Conference preview and playoff predictions for the 2012-2013 season. You can find my Eastern Conference preview here.
- Oklahoma City Thunder – Even with the James Harden trade, I still think the Thunder are the best team in the conference. Kevin Martin will provide a spark off the bench and Jeremy Lamb is a young player they can develop. The trade also netted them a pair of picks and some salary flexibility for down the road. Eric Maynor will help coming off of an injury to anchor a second unit. The experience of getting to the finals and losing is invaluable to this young group, and Kevin Durant — and especially Russell Westbrook — will only get better.
- Los Angeles Lakers – Despite an ugly preseason, I can’t imagine this Lakers team not being extremely good this season. Is there any person other than Steve Nash that can make all these different parts work together? I don’t think so. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard working the high-low is going to be deadly. I love Antawn Jamison coming off the bench for them. I’m curious to see if Kobe Bryant is willing to accept Nash controlling the offense in close games late instead of him.
- San Antonio Spurs – They are old and just keep going. I don’t see why they won’t once again challenge in the Western Conference. Tiago Splitter should continue to improve as he adjusts to the league, and Kawhi Leonard could have a breakout season. Veterans Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair and Stephen Jackson all know their role.
- Los Angeles Clippers – I hope Blake Griffin worked on his game in the offseason, especially his free-throw shooting and post moves. Chris Paul is still the best point guard in the league, and now he has Chauncey Billups to back him up. They will have to balance his role with Eric Bledsoe. Caron Butler should be close to 100 percent and Jamal Crawford will add some more perimeter scoring punch while Lamar Odom, if his head is right, does a little bit of everything. This group should be able to give every team a run for their money out west.
- Memphis Grizzlies – I must admit I have a huge soft spot for the Grizzlies. They play team ball, great defense and don’t rely on one player to dominate the ball. Mike Conley is a good pass-first point guard, and Tony Allen is probably the best one-on-one perimeter defender in the league. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are perfect compliments to one another in the frontcourt. Their bench is bad, and the season could very well come down to whether Rudy Gay can elevate his game to superstar status.
- Denver Nuggets – Another team that’s just fun to watch, the Nuggets are well-rounded with balanced scoring. I don’t love the young frontcourt combination of JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, as both guys still have a ton of maturing to do. Ty Lawson is a solid point guard that will push the ball all day long as a catalyst for the offense. Danilo Gallinari has become a very good offensive player and Andre Iguodala can do it all as a defender, passer and scorer. He won’t have to carry the team, and that suits him well. Wilson Chandler and Andre Miller provide depth off the bench. Can this team score enough considering their horrid defense? It remains to be seen.
- Dallas Mavericks – The Mavericks are trying to rebuild on the fly, and this might be the low point for the franchise. Dirk Nowitzki is banged up, and I don’t think the mishmash of vets they’ve put around him (OJ Mayo, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Chris Kaman and Shawn Marion) will be anything but mediocre.
- Utah Jazz – This team is going to win with their size, with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors. Throw in the young Enes Kanter and the Jazz will try to pound every chance they have. Marvin Williams will be fine at the three, but I wonder about Mo Williams, Randy Foye, and Gordon Hayward in the backcourt.
- Minnesota Timberwolves – With Ricky Rubio coming back from a serious knee injury and Kevin Love banged up, I believe the Wolves are one year away. I hope Rubio gets enough quickness back to stay competitive with quicker guards. JJ Barea and Luke Ridnour will be fine replacements, but I don’t think the team will get much out of Brandon Roy.
- Golden State Warriors – Can Stephen Curry stay healthy? If he can the Warriors might be able to make a playoff run. David Lee and Andrew Bogut should give good production in the backcourt, and Klay Thompson is a good shooter.
- New Orleans Hornets – I believe Anthony Davis is overrated. He isn’t a post player and will be little more than a rich man’s Marcus Camby early in his career. Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are great shooters, but Austin Rivers and Greivis Vasquez as the point guards is scary.
- Phoenix Suns – I’m not a Goran Dragic believer like everyone else. I think he is a scorer long before he is a passer, and that won’t make the Suns a better team. Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat are good up front, but I have no faith in their wing scorers.
- Portland Trailblazers – LaMarcus Aldridge is a legit All-Star power forward, but he has little help. Nicolas Batum is useful but not even a secondary star. Unless Wesley Matthews becomes an All-Star or Damian Lillard a rookie monster, they will struggle.
- Sacramento Kings – This team has a ton of talent but they are dysfunctional at best. I’m going to give them a slight nod simply due to the raw youth and skill, but it will be hard for any coach to make all those guys mesh. Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette, Aaron Brooks and Thomas Robinson are a volatile mix of players.
- Houston Rockets – Even with James Harden and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets are not going to be very good. Omer Asik is a good defensive center, but there isn’t anyone else I really like on this roster.
Eastern Conference Playoffs
(5)Bulls defeat the (4)Nets in six games.
(3)Celtics defeat the (6)Pacers in seven games.
(2)Knicks defeat the (7)Hawks in five games.
(1)Heat defeat the (8)Raptors in four games.
Celtics over the Knicks in six games.
Heat over the Bulls in seven games.
Heat over the Celtics in 7 games.
Western Conference Playoffs
(4)Clippers defeat the (5)Grizzlies in seven games.
(3)Spurs defeat the (6)Nuggets in five games.
(2)Lakers defeat the (7)Mavericks in four games.
(1)Thunder defeat the (8)Jazz in four games.
Thunder over the Clippers in seven games.
Lakers over the Spurs in seven games.
Lakers over the Thunder in seven games.
NBA FINALS: Lakers over the Heat in six games. This is my nightmare scenario, but I think the Lakers have a better roster top to bottom. I can’t imagine the Heat will be able to find an answer for Howard down low.
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So the Lakers will edge the Heat in six games, Schmeelk says. What’s your finals prediction? Let us know in the comments section below…