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Thursday, October 11, 2007

2007-08 Western Conference Preview

Last year, I correctly picked six of the eight Western Conference playoff teams. My two mistakes were choosing the L.A. Clippers and the Sacramento Kings instead of the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors (rest assured that I am not picking the Clippers or Kings to make this year's playoffs). Yesterday I posted my Eastern Conference Preview. This preview will follow exactly the same format, meaning that the following eight teams are ranked based on their likelihood of making it to the Finals and not necessarily in the order that the teams will be seeded during the playoffs (which is affected by which teams win division championships).


1) San Antonio Spurs: Reasons for hope: I could try to be original here but instead I will simply quote what I wrote last year, which still applies perfectly now: "Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have three of the top individual players in the league and one of the game's great coaches. That has proven to be a championship winning formula in the past as long as Duncan is healthy." Reasons to mope: The Spurs have won four titles in the Duncan era but have yet to capture championships in back to back seasons. The bench players are aging a bit. Face it, there is not much to mope about if you are a San Antonio fan. Bottom line: The Spurs have to be considered the favorites to win this year's championship. That does not mean it will be a walk in the park--winning titles is rarely if ever easy--but there is no good reason to pick anyone over the Spurs.

2) Dallas Mavericks: Reasons for hope: Dirk Nowitzki had a tremendous season last year and, contrary to public perception, he has generally lifted his game during the postseason (22.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, .381 three point shooting in his regular season career; 25.2 ppg, 11.1 rpg, .376 three point shooting in his postseason career). Last year's first round loss was an aberration, both for him and for this team, and Dallas will likely make a deep playoff run this year. Josh Howard continues to improve and Avery Johnson has been an excellent coach overall, though his mentor Don Nelson outmaneuvered him in last year's playoffs. Reasons to mope: The loss in the 2006 Finals and the shocking loss in the first round last year hang over this team like that permanent dirt cloud hung over the cartoon character Pigpen; he could never stay clean for long and Dallas will never cleanse its own dirt cloud until the Mavericks win a title. Bottom line: Many people wondered how the Mavericks would respond after their collapse in the 2006 Finals and Dallas answered with one of the greatest regular seasons in NBA history. Expect a similarly strong response this year, culminating in a dramatic rematch of the playoff series with the Spurs from two years ago.

3) Phoenix Suns: Reasons for hope: Steve Nash choreographs a wide-open offense and he has two great finishers in Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. Speed demon Leandro Barbosa is a matchup nightmare and Raja Bell is one of the best defensive guards in the league. If Grant Hill stays healthy and can keep up with the frenetic pace for a whole season then he will add another dimension to an offensive attack that is already too much for most teams to deal with during the regular season. Reasons to mope: The Suns are not good enough defensively to beat the Spurs (or probably even the Mavs) in a seven game series. They also sometimes lose focus in crucial situations (such as when two key players left the bench during an altercation, violating a long-standing NBA rule that every player and coach knows about). The Suns did not retain the services of Kurt Thomas, the team's best low post defender. While their racehorse style suits their personnel, their inability to be effective in a half court game down the stretch in playoff games has proven fatal throughout the Nash era. Marion expressed a desire to be traded, a tangible indication of just how delicate the chemistry is on this team. Bottom line: The Suns will win about 55 games and advance in the playoffs until they face the Spurs or the Mavs.

4) Houston Rockets: Reasons for hope: Coach Rick Adelman and newly acquired power forward Luis Scola should both greatly ease the burden that has long been shouldered by Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Reasons to mope: Whenever McGrady gets hurt the team looks terrible--and his always balky back is unlikely to get healthier as he gets older. Houston lost a game seven at home in last year's playoffs, which is uncommon in the NBA; McGrady and Yao both put up good numbers in that contest but other than Shane Battier the rest of the team disappeared in the biggest game of the season. Bottom line: This team should be in the hunt for the best record in the West and is good enough to beat anyone in the playoffs other than the Spurs.

5) Utah Jazz: Reasons for hope: Carlos Boozer had a breakout season and Deron Williams emerged as one of the league's best point guards. Last year's run to the Western Conference Finals could be a springboard to even greater success in the coming seasons. Reasons to mope: A few chemistry problems bubbled to the surface during the loss to San Antonio. Boozer and Williams questioned the effort put forth by some of their teammates. Andrei Kirilenko, who was likely one of the players who that criticism was directed at, feuded with Coach Jerry Sloan and has expressed a desire to leave Utah to play in his native Russia. Bottom line: Utah squeaked by Houston and benefited from Dallas being upset. Don't expect to see the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals this season.

6) Golden State Warriors: Reasons for hope: A healthy Baron Davis spearheaded a high-powered offense that struck so much fear into the hearts of the 67-15 Dallas Mavericks that the Mavericks changed their starting lineup before game one of their first round series. Like Phoenix, this team plays a style that is difficult to deal with during the regular season. Reasons to mope: Golden State's success depends on the health of several players who have been less than stable--mentally or physically--during their careers. Golden State's shot selection is awful and their defense, while aggressive and opportunistic at times, is not completely sound. Bottom line: This is a difficult team to read, one that could just as easily win 50 games or 35. Split the difference and pencil Golden State in for 44 wins--and a first round exit.

7) Denver Nuggets: Reasons for hope: The dynamic scoring duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson will be together from the start of the season. Marcus Camby is one of the best defenders and rebounders in the league. Reasons to mope: Defense has not been a strong suit for this team in recent seasons and there is no reason to expect that to change now. Denver will either have to shift Iverson to point guard or else have a very small starting backcourt. Bottom line: Carmelo Anthony is well on his way toward stringing together a Kevin Garnett-like run of first round playoff losses.

8) L.A. Lakers: Reasons for hope: Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA and as long as he is on the court the Lakers at least have a chance to be competitive. The departure of Smush Parker should be worth a few wins and a lot of peace of mind. Before injuries decimated the frontcourt, the Lakers had one of the better records in the West. Reasons to mope: The Lakers' good start had a smoke and mirrors quality because the schedule was front loaded with home games. The Lakers do not have enough depth to withstand injuries or foul trouble. If the team starts poorly then there will be a lot of rumors about Bryant possibly being traded and/or Coach Phil Jackson deciding to retire. Bottom line: Lamar Odom has not yet been an All-Star and, despite his obvious talent, it is unlikely that he ever will become one. The Lakers did little to upgrade their roster; there is maybe a 10% chance that everyone will stay healthy, everything will break right and the Lakers will win 50 games but the most likely scenario is that it will take another great season from Bryant just to get this team into the playoffs.

The New Orleans Hornets have narrowly missed the playoffs the past two years. They will again be in the mix for the eighth playoff spot but the two teams right in front of them--the Nuggets and the Lakers--have stars who can carry a team by scoring 40 or 50 points and that will again prove to be the difference.

While the top West teams are very strong, it is likely that several West bottom feeders will have fewer than 30 wins. Injuries have decimated the L.A. Clippers, who will likely have a season similar to the one that Memphis did last year in the wake of Pau Gasol's injury. Gasol's return means that Memphis will probably not have the league's worst record--but the Grizzlies may very well be in contention for that dubious distinction. Portland's injury problems--most notably to number one overall pick Greg Oden--have been well documented and the Blazers will have another lottery pick to pair with Oden by the time he returns to action in 2008-09. Seattle replaced two All-Stars with two raw young talents, meaning that the Sonics' record will go down before it goes up. You may have heard that Minnesota made a few changes; Kevin Garnett is gone and so is any chance that the Timberwolves will win 30 games. The Sacramento Kings switched coaches but did little to improve the roster; yes, you can chalk them up for less than 30 wins, too.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:20 AM

18 comments

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18 Comments:

At Thursday, October 11, 2007 11:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

i like the suns in the west if they could get homecourt advantage without it they wont win they got homecourt last year but didnt have stoudamire in game 5 if they get homecourt with stoudamire there they beat the spurs who a year older and had fortunate circumstances last year. spurs will be in the mix clearly if they get homecourt will win. mavs time has passed to me the will get beat by spurs or suns this year. utah wont be as good next year they might get out of the first round. houston good but mcgrady hasnt tooken a team anywhere. denver wont get out of first round golden state could make some noise or not make the playoffs. the lakers stink got a top 3 player in league in kobe but hell be in chicago next year anyway. he might not give it his all knowing that this team sucks and he wont be there next year anyway.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 12:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

1) The Spurs probably need homecourt advantage less than any other team. They are a battle-tested, veteran laden championship team and their foundation is at the defensive end; their game is a very "portable" one and they can certainly win on the road if necessary. The current incarnation of the Suns as led by Nash have yet to beat the Spurs in a playoff series or even make it to the Finals, let alone win a title.

2) The Mavs' key players are not old or injury prone so there is no reason to think that their time has past.

3) Kobe Bryant is perhaps the most fiercely competitive player in the league and he is going to play hard regardless of the circumstances.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 10:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

but they could this year in the suns could this year they have never had they full team in a big game yet like game 5 last year would have been i like them to win it period. spurs is older and seem that the run is coming to a end if they played dallas they probably wouldnt of beat them and got lucky vs the suns. dallas has a chance i would like to see they mental makeup after last year debacle.

and kobe is going to be a lame duck player by midseason is why i said that he's going to get traded he might not be happy and if he is not happy he doesnt give everything period. kobe is for the mostpart very competive and plays hard but on occasion he could shoot 2 times in a half as well so well see this year.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 11:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Spurs have won two of the past three championships and three of the past five. Why should we assume that "the run is coming to an end"?

I've looked closely and I don't see a spot in the NBA Record Book that lists teams that might have won a championship but "never had their full team in a big game." By the way, who were the Suns missing in 2005 when the Spurs beat them in the Conf. Finals? The truth is that the Suns have never shown that they can beat the Spurs on a consistent basis in the playoffs.

I'm not sure what a "lame duck" player is. A player cannot be voted out like a politician. If your reference to Kobe shooting twice in a half is about game seven of the playoffs in 2006, check out LeBron's stats in game seven versus Detroit that year. Jordan also had a playoff game early in his career versus Detroit in which he took far fewer FGAs than usual. I'm not sure that FGAs are the best measure of how hard a player is playing but anyone who wants to indict Kobe for this "crime" must be prepared to also indict MJ and LeBron.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 8:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

they run is coming to an end by my suns and in 05 the suns werent as good as last season clearly with that ruled they dodged one meaning the spurs. but this year when they get beat the proof is in the pudding.


as far as kobe he shot twice aginst sacramento in 04 and in 06 vs the suns he didnt play hard or was competitive in that game. barely comeing beyond half court. lebron in game 7 vs detroit didnt quit what are you talking about. jordan agianst detroit have to look at that but he was never known for quiting kobe done this a few times when things dont go his way great player but a baby as well on occasion.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 8:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

when kobe does things it is clearly more obvious than other players when they do it because kobe is not as slick as those players and not as smart

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 9:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

It's not clear to me either why you think the Spurs' run is ending or why the '07 Suns were supposedly better than the '05 Suns, when Amare had not yet had knee surgery and Nash was two years younger.

As for Kobe, shot attempts alone do not prove how hard someone is playing. This is why Kobe can't win with fans: when he shoots a lot he's a gunner but if he passes out of the double-team then supposedly he is not playing hard. Kobe, like all great players, takes what the defense gives him. Team success depends on the other players being productive.

Kobe and LeBron's second half stats in the game sevens in '06 were virtually identical--they passed to teammates who could not make a shot and their teams got blown out.

The MJ game was mentioned in a Sam Smith column years ago. Smith brought it up again in '06 after everyone got on Kobe for not shooting and I did a post about the whole thing here. If you look in the May 2006 archives you should be able to find it.

I'd like to hear a specific example of Kobe being a "baby"--and it would be nice if the example came from some time in the past five years and not some obscure thing that happened when he was a rookie straight out of high school.

I have no idea what you mean about Kobe not being as "slick" or as "smart" as other players. Kobe is one of the smartest players in the league in terms of basketball IQ and he has a tremendous thirst for knowledge about the game.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 10:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

the spurs will have another great year they have never won. 2 in a row and wont next year it's about stoudamire not nash stoudamire will play in the most important game. and they get homecourt theyl be good man.

as far as kobe he was a baby aginst sacramento refusing to shoot when they criticzed him the game before about shooting too much rather than being a man he decided not to shoot. and aginst the suns he was not playing hard in the second half of that game 7. 3 shots after you took 12 the first half when you know you had too shoot down 15 to win come on you werent getting teamates involved you were just acting like a baby refusing to shoot. and the whole crying about being traded thing get him a passafire one day i want to be traded the next i dont looking for attention and takeing away from the finals becasue he's not involved anymore.

nobody said kobe is not playing hard when he passes out a double team. when youre down 15 and you need to spark your team by scoreing and your passing every time you touch it before you get from halfcourt thats when youre not playing hard it has nuthing to do with passing out of a double team.

kobe is not smart as a person when he was acting like a baby or does something it is obviuos it has nuthing to do with basketball at all. jordan was much more slick and smarter as a person than kobe same with lebron when kobe does things he tries to be slick with things like running shaq out and saying had nuthing to do with it but it was obvious he did.

 
At Monday, October 15, 2007 4:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Amare played in all the games in '05, scored a ton of points and the Suns still lost. Amare gives up at the defensive end almost as much as he scores at the offensive end.

That Sacramento game was a long time ago. Kobe denied that he was playing any differently but a lot of people thought that he was trying to prove a point--namely that the Lakers needed him to score in order to win. As I said, Sam Smith pointed out an instance where MJ seemed to do the exact same thing in a playoff game after he was criticized for shooting too much in previous playoff games. I don't know that MJ is smarter than Kobe. I would agree that he is more slick and that more members of the media like him than like Kobe.

The whole business about game seven in Phx is bogus. Kobe scored 25 in the first half and the Lakers were still down 15. NOBODY ELSE CAME TO PLAY IN EITHER HALF (sorry for shouting but nobody seems to want to hear this). In the third quarter, the Lakers tried to reestablish the "inside man" strategy that met with some success earlier in the series but all of the Lakers' big men played softly and tentatively. Kobe attempted three shots in the third quarter and by the end of that period they were so far behind that there was no chance of winning. To sum up, they fell behind when he was scoring a lot and they fell behind when he was trying to distribute the ball. No one else came to play and they had no chance to win the game--as I predicted beforehand, because game sevens on the road in the NBA are usually death (Utah vs. Houston was a notable exception this year). LeBron had almost identical numbers in game seven versus Det. that year--big first half, not many shot attempts in second half. His teammates failed him just like Kobe's teammates failed him.

The whole trade demand scenario was not about being a baby; Kobe is competitive and he wants to win. If he was happy just winning scoring titles then you and others would say that all he cares about is scoring. Kobe has said that he shouldn't have gone public with his demand and has pledged to not do so again. Meanwhile, Jerry Buss just opened the whole can of worms again. Is he a "baby"?

Why bring up the whole Shaq thing again? Kobe said he had nothing to do with it and so did Buss and Kupchak. Shaq said that he believes Kobe. Where is the issue here?

 
At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 2:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

stoudamire and the suns were just coming up in 05 and that was the best spurs team the suns now our ready and were ready last year really if the thing with stoudamire didnt happen to beat spurs.

kobe tried to prove something to teamates 2 or 3 times before was my point it is not a cincedence becasee he done it before. mj is smarter than kobe because he knew how to answer questions bettter and had better PR people than kobe does kobe made some mistakes that mj was too smart to make because his people behind him wouldnt put himself in that spot and knew how to hide his flwas better than kobe.

kobe the leader of the team he should of came to play in that game i know it's old news but the other players follow the leader alot of times in a game 7 of that magnitude you got to play harder than he did.

the trade scneraio thing was a attention seeking thing he didnt even know if he wanted to be traded or not. he made it all public rather than going in private like a man and talking to the organization, rather than whining and crying like a baby like he did trying to go on every radio station making his whine plea. he wanted to be the guy in la he is know what he found out was it aint easy to get star players and make trade for them like he thought. thats why so many organizations have been terrible over the years it takes time to win rings and build teams. but kobe thinks he can get what he wants when he wants too and he played himself. shaq got 4th ring in miami and got the last laugh at you and the organization, they should trade for shaq agian they havent won a playoff series without him.

 
At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 6:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Suns had the best record in the league in '05. Every year that they don't win with Nash you have an excuse handy. Nash has been the MVP twice and was runner-up last year, his team is stacked with talent and he has yet to make it to the Finals even once. Those are facts. The rest of this is just fan-speak.

If Kobe was trying to prove something, then so were MJ and LeBron. Why single out Kobe?

As I explained, Kobe did come to play in that game seven. Google the box score of that contest and find me another Laker who did anything productive.

How do you know that he did not go the private route with the organization before he went public? Also, please admit that if Kobe showed no dissatisfaction then you would be making comments about how all Kobe cares about is the scoring title. You are biased against Kobe Bryant (and for Steve Nash) and therefore are not analyzing these situations objectively.

Shaq's team got swept 4-0 in last year's playoffs.

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 6:13:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I think the Spurs' success this year and until the end of the decade will depend upon their role players. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker will continue to give the team what it needs from its stars, but at some point Bowen, Horry, Barry, Finley, etc. are going to begin showing their age. How soon these role players decline, and how the Spurs are able to fill in for them will be the deciding factors.

I think that this summer was a golden opportunity for the Spurs to re-stock their supporting cast with younger players and prepare for the inevitable decline of the current crop. They missed a chance to ensure title-contender status through 2010. Having said all that, I still pick the Spurs in 2008 to win it all.

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 6:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Spurs do not seem to be doing a great job of replenishing their roster with young talent and it was odd that they did not try harder to sign Scola. As you said, though, the possible consequences of those decisions are not likely to impact this season.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 12:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

shaq got 4 rings kobe got 3 and shaq got to conference finals the year before that kobe didnt make playoffs got knocked out first round twice. anyway the suns had best record they were very young team in 05. and plus the spurs had they best team 07 spurs were better than 05 and won same amount of games if amare played in game 5 they beat the spurs without question spurs were fortunate amare made the mistake. i can care less about nash but you a bias kobe fan and pretend you a nba anyalysis everytime kobe does anything wrong you make excuses for him allday it's everybody else fault but kobe all day. trying to knock shaq career because kobe has done nuthing without him. you need to analyze the game fairly please and if kobe does something wrong call him out on it or every other player stop being a bias laker fan please

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 12:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

kobe want be a laker for that much longer anyway he wants out of there badly cleaning out his locker and bailing out on that team.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 6:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Shaq got to the Conference Finals playing alongside Dwyane Wade, one of the best players in the NBA. Kobe is not paired with even one All-Star, let alone an All-NBA player.

Did the Suns get younger in the 05 playoffs after having the best record? What does their age have to do with anything? The reason that they win all of these regular season games and then lose in the playoffs is that their team does not play the right way to beat a team like San Antonio in a seven game series. The Spurs play better defense and can function at a fast or slow tempo; the Suns only thrive in an uptempo game.

You say that I make excuses for Kobe but all you are doing is making excuses for three years of Suns' failures. They have a two-time MVP, two other All-Stars and other talented players and have yet to make it to the Finals even once.

What do the contents of Kobe's locker have to do with anything? Why do you say that he is bailing out on the team? The current media firestorm has been fanned by the owner, not by Kobe.

 
At Saturday, December 01, 2007 2:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the Hornets over Warriors and think they are a better candidate to stick there for a stretch than Warriors were.

 
At Sunday, December 02, 2007 12:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

So far you are right but we are just in the early stages of a long season. You will also note that I frankly admitted that I can see a wide range of possibilities for the Warriors due to their volatile mix of players.

 

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