We continue our look ahead to the NBA season with Colm Lakes previewing the Pacific Division. In case you missed it check out Andrew Sanders take on the Southeast Division.
As we look forward to the return of the NBA season, we can expect one of the most exciting years of the decade, with some major player movements throughout the league during the off-season. The fate of the title is unknown with almost nothing to separate the strength of the Thunder, Heat and Lakers on paper. The Pacific division is likely to be one of the most exciting divisions in the league this season and could hold three potential playoff teams.
LA Clippers – Expect big things this season from the Clippers. The arrival of Chris Paul last season changed the direction of this franchise, which had been accustomed to mediocrity for years. With Paul and the young highflyer Blake Griffin the Clippers have one of the most intimidating big man-little man combinations in the league, and with some valuable reinforcements arriving this summer, the Clippers could take an extra step towards success.
Last season expectations were high, but The Clips could not overtake their neighbours, the Lakers. This summer, they sent a signal of intent around the league with the signings of Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes. These arrivals can only boost the team’s chances of moving forward towards a conference finals. And with two former Lakers in the ranks, some dramatic fixtures are expected between the two teams this season.
Predicted Finish: Conference Semi- finals.
Golden State Warriors – Before the start of last season Warriors coach, Mark Jackson, predicted a trip to the post season for his team. In the end they did not deliver, but the young team can still take a lot of pride from last season. This season Jackson has kept quiet, however the playoffs look far more achievable this season. While they lack any superstar, they have a solid backbone with Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson, David Lee and Stephen Curry.
With the trade for Jefferson and Bogut coming last March the team will be more gelled and prepared this season. Also, the arrival of rookie Harrison Barnes seventh in the overall draft has added to the excitement around the team. The young forward had the third highest points average in the ACC last season.
Predicted Finish: 1st Round of Playoffs
Sacramento Kings – Sacramento look to be a team on the up, definitely in a position to compete for a return to the playoffs. Their young star Tyreke Evans looks set to continue his growth as a player and mature into a great player in this league. Last season the franchise were stifled by the poor relationship between Coach Paul Westphal and DeMarcus Cousins early in the year. Westphal’s sacking disrupted the early season plans, but with the majority of last year gone, they will be a more focused and energised team this year. Also, Aaron Brooks joined the team this summer and should help bolster team with his energy with his pace.
Predicted Finish: Miss Playoffs this season.
Phoenix Suns- The Suns are a team in rebuilding mode at the moment, with star players Steve Nash out the door for Los Angeles. The team looks entirely different this season with Goran Dragic replacing Nash at the point. It is unknown what to expect from the Slovenian, who is among a number f point guards under the microscope this season including Jeremy Lin, Nash, Darren Collison and Jason Kidd.
The Suns will remain competitive this season with Luis Scola and Michael Beasley arriving to add muscle to the squad. As the season progresses it will be apparent whether the reshaping will be successful or not. Players like Jermaine O’Neil could be very effective, but not much can be said until the team takes to the floor regularly.
Predicted Finish: Competing for 8th Playoff spot.
LA Lakers – The team that comes to anyone’s lips when thinking about the Pacific division are the Los Angeles Lakers. The most successful West Coast Franchise ever fell off the pace last season, outgunned by the likes of the Thunder and the Heat. With some excellent management, the Lakers have pulled off another blockbuster summer with two future Hall of Famers arriving in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. With these two superstars joining Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, the Lakers look to be the real deal this season, should they find the chemistry. Expectation and pressure is monumentally high though, and anything less than a championship will go down as a failure in Lakerland.
Despite the expectations, a lot of things will still have to fall into place for this team to win it all. Howard has returned to training after his back surgery, but there is still a lot of speculation about whether he will be as dominant as in previous seasons. Also there is the question of whether he can work with his new post partner Pau Gasol. Howard will no doubt benefit from Gasol’s offensive threat, preventing opponent teams from double-teaming him in the post. However, they both demand a lot of ball, and may be unable to work together as effectively as Gasol and Bynum worked together throughout the previous seasons they were together.
The next question is how Steve Nash will fit into this team. On paper, Steve Nash is the perfect player to penetrate and throw lobs up to Howard and terrorise any and every team in the league. But Nash has spent the last few years without an effective post player in Phoenix. His game became drive and dish to perimeter shooters. Adjusting his game from this may not be immediate, and we could be waiting some time before Nash and Howard click offensively.
What is known about this team though is that if they are to win a championship, it has to happen fast. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are past their primes and their careers are winding down. It’s quite possible that one or both of them could retire in the next year or two, but if the team plays to its potential I predict not even Lebron James’ Heat can stop this gathering of the stars.
Predicted finish: Championship.