Upcoming 2011-12 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

WESTERN CONFERENCE – SOUTHWEST

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Last Season: 57-25, Division Champions, 3rd Overall in West, NBA Champions

Key Losses:  J.J. Barea, Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, Corey Brewer, Rudy Fernandez, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic (retired)

Key Additions:  Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West, Andy Rautins, Brandon Wright, Brian Cardinal (resigned)

Main RotationStarters – Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood; Key Reserves – Jason Terry, Lamar Odom, Delonte West, Rodrigue Beaubois, Brandon Wright, Brian Cardinal, Ian Mahinmi

The defending NBA Champions felt a huge blow this offseason as they’re defensive presence, Tyson Chandler, decided to sign with the New York Knicks.  Dallas would not have won the championship without Chandler.  He was the one that put this team over the top.  In addition, the Mavs also lost fan favorite J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, and Peja Stojakovic.  Barea was Dallas’ best player at breaking down the defenses.  The Mavs lost a lot in terms of defense but in regards to offense they are much improved with additions of Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, and Delonte West.  Odom will not be that enforcer that Chandler was though but if he can bring the sixth man attitude he played with in L.A., then Dallas should be just fine.  He’s still a near 7 footer, who overall, is more skilled than Chandler.  Vince Carter and Delonte West are solid replacements as well, especially West who is a bigger, stronger back up point than Barea was.

Brendan Haywood will be very important to this team.  Manning the middle, he is going to have to bring at least a shot-blocking presence.  What he lacks in athleticism and footwork, he makes up for in length and size.  It will be important that he plays smart and not get into foul trouble especially in big games.

The Mavs should still be a dominant team.  The bright-side is they still have coach Rick Carlisle who preaches defense.  He will have to call on the perimeter guys step up their defense and this team will be just fine and be the favorite to win it all again.  If the Mavs didn’t land Odom to replace Chandler, the NBA would see a new champion though.

Prediction: 48-18, Division Champions, 1st Overall in West, Championship Contender

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Last Season:  46-36, 4th in Division, 8th Overall in West, Lost to Oklahoma City in Western Conf Semis

Key Losses:  Shane Battier

Key Additions:  Marc Gasol (resigned), Jeremy Pargo, Josh Selby (draft)

Main RotationStarters – Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol ; Key Reserves – Tony Allen, Greivas Vasquez, Sam Young, Darrell Arthur, Xavier Henry, Jeremy Pargo

After their amazing run in the playoffs last year, this team is expected to do more this coming season.  By resigning Marc Gasol and keeping him in that frontcourt with Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies have one of the top 5 front lines in the NBA.  Don’t forget Rudy Gay, who missed the majority of the second half last year and the playoffs, will be back.  Imagine that, the Grizzlies made their run last year without one of their best players.

This team is talented and very close to being put in the same discussion with Dallas, OKC, and Lakers but they’re still a big man away from competing at that level.  If Gasol gets into foul trouble they do not have a solid big guy to hold the fort down.  Of course, Randolph can play spot minutes in the middle but he’s more dangerous playing off their big man versus being the big man.  Second year man Greivas Vasquez had a very good playoff run last year as well.  He is going to be expected to come in and be that third guard.  This kid has the potential to make an impact the way James Harden does in OKC.

This might be the year where you will see the Grizzlies send three guys to the all-star game in February.  Gay, Randolph, and Gasol should have big years and be recognized for it.  This team will be dangerous.  Come playoff time, no one is going to want to play this team.

Prediction: 42-24, 2nd in Division, 3rd Overall in West, Playoff Contender

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Last Season:  61-21, Division Champions, 1st Overall in West, Lost to Memphis in 1st Round

Key Losses:  George Hill, Antonio McDyess (retire)

Key Additions:  T.J. Ford, Kawhi Leonard (draft), Corey Joseph (draft)

Main RotationStarters – Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, DaJuan Blair, Tim Duncan; Key Reserves – T.J. Ford, Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard (draft), Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter

Last year was it for the Spurs.  It was their last run at the title.  Although, that’s been said the last two years and every time the Spurs keep surprising everyone with their regular season play but poor playoff performance.  Last year they just ran out of gas and came across a hungrier team in Memphis.  San Antonio basically has the same crew back minus George Hill and Antonio McDyess. Hopefully, T.J. Ford’s career can be rejuvenated here in San Antonio.  If so, he’s a nice back up to Tony Parker.  The Spurs probably have two of the top 5 fastest players in the league with Parker and Ford.  If the rest of their man guys were younger this team would be fun to watch with those guys pushing the ball up the court.

The Spurs were supposed to get younger.  I guess they did somewhat with Ford and rookie Kawhi Leonard but Ford’s body is like a 10 year veteran.  With the team as is right now and if this was last year, they’d probably still have a solid record and be a top 5 seed but the West is better today.  Other West teams have either gotten better or younger.  The shortened season will take a toll on the Spurs big three especially Duncan.  Playing time management will be very important for Coach Popovich to monitor.  This team cannot run out of gas again in the playoffs.

Maybe it’s good for the Spurs to take a step back this year. It’s time for them to rebuild and look at trading either Parker or Ginobili.  This Spurs era is coming up on almost 10 years now and the Spurs are in that situation where they waited too long to bring in a new regiment.

Prediction: 33-33, 3rd in Division, 8th Overall in West, Playoff Contender

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

Last Season: 46-36, 3rd in Division, 7th Overall in West, Lost to Dallas in 1st Round

Key Losses:  Chris Paul, Aaron Gray, David West

Key Additions:  Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, DaJuan Summers, Marco Belinelli (resigned), Carl Landry (resigned), Jason Smith (resigned)

Main RotationStarters – Jarrett Jack, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman; Key Reserves –  Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, Quincy Pondexter

What a difference an offseason can make. Their star power forward David West decided to bolt and join the Pacers.  Then  New Orleans faced a roller coaster ride involving Chris Paul.  After having the trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers rejected by the league, the Hornets traded him to the other L.A. team, the Clippers.  It was necessary to trade Paul since he was going to leave next summer via free agency.  The Hornets had to get something in return so out of the trade the Hornets received Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, the one of the best first names in the league Al-Farouq Aminu.  Honestly, this trade wasn’t that bad barring Kaman is 100% and Aminu proves why he was a lottery pick.  Eric Gordon is a stud and a very talented guard the Hornets can build around.  The team may actually be better off with this team rather than with Paul and West.

New Orleans will not win many games this year.  Surprisingly their team isn’t all that bad after losing their two all-stars though.  It could definitely be worse. The main thing this team will need at this point is time to gel with one another.  Starting point guard Jarret Jack will get the chance to showcase what he can do.  He’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of in the past with Portland, Toronto, and Indiana.  Look for him to have found a home here in New Orleans.  He’s built in the same mold as a Chauncey Billups so if he ends up being anywhere near Billups, New Orleans has a pretty damn good backcourt along with Gordon.

After the whole Chris Paul saga, you really have to feel for the fans of New Orleans.  Chris Paul brought basketball to this city after Hurricane Katrina.  It’s not like CP3 just picked up and left the city high and dry.  It’s the mere fact that he is supposed to be  a model citizen for the NBA and to come out and say he basically wanted a divorce from the team and from the city would definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth.  I’m sure New Orleans fans thought he was the loyal type but it is what it is.

Prediction: 19-47, 4th in Division, 12th Overall in West, Draft Lottery-bound

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Last Season:  43-39, Last in Division, 9th Overall in West, Missed playoffs

Key Losses:  Yao Ming (retired), Chuck Hayes, Brad Miller, Rick Adelman (head coach)

Key Additions:  Johnny Flynn, Samuel Dalembert, Kevin McHale (head coach), Marcus Morris (draft), Donatas Montiejunas (draft), Chandler Parsons (draft)

Main RotationStarters – Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Luis Scola, Samuel Dalembert; Key Reserves – Jordan Hill, Goran Dragic, Johnny Flynn, Courtney Lee, Marcus Morris, Hasheem Thabeet, Patrick Patterson

After Yao Ming announced he was forced to retire due to injuries, the Rockets had lost their big man.  Wait, who’s this that’s coming in to join the Rockets?  Kevin McHale.  It’s too bad he’s going to be on the sideline coaching the team because the Rockets could use his inside presence.  This team brought in Samuel Dalembert to replace Yao but he’s a garbage man and mainly gets his points off hustle plays and put backs.  The Johnny Flynn signing is pretty good as long as he is able to come back 100%.  He’ll be insurance behind both Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic.  This team’s toughness has been depleted though after losing both Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller to free agency.

Don’t expect the Rockets to be that good this year.  Some may argue this since they’ve barely played with Yao over the last two years and they actually overachieved but that was under coach Rick Adelman.  Adelman is known for getting the most out of his offensive talent.  As good as coach McHale was as a player, he’s far better in the front office than on the sideline.  Putting together a cohesive unit will be challenging but he’s been a winner all his life so hopefully it works out.

With now more playing time, Jordan Hill will get a chance to show what he can do.  Eventually, he should take over for Dalembert in the middle.  Ever since Dalembert got his big contract a few years ago, he has not lived up to the expectations and he’s become pretty lazy.  Houston fans will be spending a lot of time reliving the 1994 and 1995 Rockets seasons.  Look it up you’ll know why.

Prediction: 17-49, Last in Division, 14th Overall in West, Draft Lottery-bound

WESTERN CONFERENCE CONFERENCE SUMMARY

1.) Dallas

2.) Oklahoma City 

3.) Memphis

4.) Portland

5.) L.A. Lakers 

6.) L.A. Clippers 

7.) Utah Jazz 

8.) San Antonio Spurs

9.) Denver

10.) Sacrament0 

11.) Minnesota

12.) New Orleans 

13.) Phoenix

14.) Houston

15.) Golden State

Well, that’s it folks for the team-by-team preview.  The 2011-12 NBA Season tips off on Christmas Day.  Let’s do this.

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