Western Conference PreviewJay gave it to you raw in his analysis of the Eastern Conference. Today, it’s time for the West Coast, er, Western Conference. Unlike Jay’s brackets which consisted of names like “Riggin’ for Wiggins” and “NBA Purgatory”, I’m going to name each tier or bracket of teams after a Tupac Shakur song.

Throw up that W Pac!

Tupac

Okay, we’re ready.

Keep Ya Head Up

Oooo child, things are gonna get easier.

This is for the fanbases who will have to sit through terrible basketball to hopefully land a top draft pick and like Jay said, these teams are definitely riggin’ for wiggins. Hoops heads know the name Andrew Wiggins, a product of a an NBA player dad (Mitchell) and a Canadian Olympic track runner mom (Marita Payne). The guy has some genetics. He’ll be showing his stuff this year while playing for Kansas, but it’s going to be one and done to the NBA next year.

If you need more proof why teams are trying to be as bad as possible this season:

The Phoenix Suns are the only team in the West who are working hard to be as bad as Philadelphia and Charlotte are in the East (as well as Orlando). Though, you can make a case for Utah, who lost their two productive big men and are banking on young bigs Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to grow up together. Gordon Heyward is an efficient shooter and Trey Burke, though injured early on, should get a lot of run and could make a case for being the Rookie Of The Year.

Phoenix is in a class of their own. And they got worse before the season even started by trading Marcin Gortat. Suns fans hope Eric Bledsoe can turn into a low rent version of Russell Westbrook.

Same Song

All around the world, same song.

I don’t see a whole lot changing for these teams standings wise.

The Sacramento Kings overhauled their ownership, front office and coaching staff, hoping to eliminate the stench of the Maloofs. But that stench won’t come off easily. Boogie Cousins is in this weird spot of having to be the lead dog on the team now that Tyreke Evans is gone. And everyone loves Boogie’s game. We’ll see if the new coaches can work with his demeanor. Boogie and team leader don’t really go together quite yet. He’ll have to prove me wrong.

They lost Tyreke Evans which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I don’t think you can win with Reke as your best player, but they’re going to have to replace his production. They did add some sneaky good players who could eventually fit into a nice puzzle. Carl Landry brings toughness (though he’s injured to start the season), Luc Mbah a Moute fits nicely on the front line, and assist-man Greivis Vásquez may become Boogie’s best friend. I just don’t see them challenging for a playoff spot this year.

New Orleans is probably better than just about all the bad teams in the East, but in the West, it just means they’re stuck in a race for .500 and probably coming up short. However, all is not bad. If you’re a Pelicans fan (Pellies? Cans? Ps?) you have to feel good that they are actually trying to win. Anthony Davis is a stud in the making, but their tandem of new point guard Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Reke Evans will have to be able to mesh together quickly for things to happen right for the Pelicans. I see a win improvement, but not a standings improvement.

Rebel of the Underground

They just can’t stand the reign, or the occasional pain, from a man like me, who goes against the grain.

Kevin Love Ricky RubioThe two teams who have the best shot at breaking into the playoff picture in the West are Portland and Minnesota. It’s amazing that someone as good as Kevin Love has never made the playoffs, yet alone played on a team that won over 40% of their basketball games. In a lost season where he was hurt and didn’t play much, the team won 31 games, which is the most a T-Wolves team has won since he’s been on the roster. (The year before, they had a slightly better winning percentage in the short season.) Yet, I still think they have a great chance to break into the mix and a lot of it depends on health. But you have to like their starting squad – Rubio, Martin (or Brewer)/Williams/Love/Pekovic. The front line gets thin going to the bench, so it would almost make sense to start Chase Budinger so you can bring Williams into the mix as the sixth man. If they can stay healthy, you have to believe head coach Rich Adelman can take them to that playoff level.

As for the Trailblazers, they have a lot of very nice pieces and for chemistry and blending reasons alone, I’d give the T-Wolves a better shot at breaking into playoffs. Damian Lillard can score, but he’ll have to improve at other aspects of his game like defense and distributing the ball. LaMarcus Aldridge is now in his 8th year and he’s eerily consistent (21/9) so you know what you’re going to get. Someone else will have to blossom into a dependable third player for them to roll. Will it be Nicolas Batum, Thomas Robinson, rookie C. J. McCollum, or someone else?

Ambitionz Az a Ridah

I won’t deny it, I’m a straight ridah…

Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitski will go down as not only two of the greatest players of their generation, but two of the greatest players of all-time. Unfortunately for them, their franchises haven’t been able to keep enough good players around them to compliment their late stage games. The San Antonio Spurs have done just that with Tim Duncan. Some of it is because of bad personnel moves, some because of cap issues, and some just because both players are the center piece and the team identity is based around them. That’s why Dwight Howard isn’t on the Lakers today.

But they have a lot of dog in them. You wouldn’t be surprised if Kobe wills the Los Angeles Lakers to a playoff spot just as you wouldn’t be if Dirk did the same with the Dallas Mavericks. Their rosters don’t give you a lot confidence in their teams doing anything if they get to the playoffs, but you can’t bet against either player if they get healthy and stay healthy.

They are also beloved more than just about any players in the league by their fanbase. Check out my buddy @HoachX who was named after Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. When I asked him about Kobe, this is what he posted.

Western Conference preview

Better than Magic? You see what I mean. Can’t do anything wrong in the fans’ eyes. Straight ridah.

It Ain’t Easy

How’s this for consistency? The Denver Nuggets have made the playoffs 10 years in a row and lost in the first round in nine of those years. The only time they moved beyond that was in 2009 when they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers. It ain’t easy.

The Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the league’s best teams for the last three years. Since 2010, they’ve lost in the second round of the playoffs to Oklahoma City, in the first round to the Los Angels Clippers, and last year in the Western Conference Finals to the San Antonio Spurs. And that was probably their apex. They’re the one team that still plays a fairly plodding style, so in a sense, they play an original style in today’s game and what some would even say is a traditional playoff style. Yet, they’ve come up short in the tough Western Conference and it doesn’t look like it will get better. They didn’t get younger and didn’t really improve their one weakness which is outside shooting. Yes, they picked up Mike Miller, but if he plays 60 games, you’d consider it a plus.

As for Denver, they fired George Karl after he won the coach of the year. The Warriors cold-bloodedly beat the favored Nuggets in the first round last year and then took their best player, Andre Iguodala in the off-season. The mix and match of Nate Robinson and JaVale McGee will be hilarious just for Instagram moments alone. But as part of an at least 2nd round playoff basketball team? It sure doesn’t look that way. Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, along with wild-man Kenneth Farried will have to be very good this year in order for them to even be as close to as good as they were last year because last year, they won 57 games. It ain’t easy.

Bomb First

When it comes to taking deep shots, the Houston Rockets take a lot of them and the Golden State Warriors make a lot of them. The Rockets were third in the league last year by taking nearly 1600 shots from 20-24 feet. They made nearly 39% of those shots, which is good. The Warriors took far less of those shots, but made a NBA leading 44% of them, which is great. They bomb first.

Steph Curry shot chartThe two teams are also two of the most exciting teams in the league thanks to the guard play of James Harden and Steph Curry. Both teams made big splashes in the free agent market with the Rockets landing the big prize in Dwight Howard and the Warriors snagging defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala. The moves should help both teams improve and join the upper echelon of the West. But will they be enough to truly be contenders? I’m not convinced, but I can be. With Denver and Memphis probably on their way down, there’s room for the Warriors and Rockets to jump up a few spots. But to compete with the Spurs, Clippers, and Thunder, both teams will have to be much more consistent. But, they could be come playoff time and that’s where they both could be dangerous.

All Eyez On Me

Make sure your eyes is on the meal ticket/Get your money motherfucker/Let’s get rich and we’ll kick it/All eyes on me!

The last three teams are the ones who I think are best set up to challenge for the Western Conference title. The best players on their rosters have played together for several years, their collective team chemistry is good, and only one of them truly has to make that big leap. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have repped the West in the last two years. But I think it’s time for the Los Angeles Clippers to make that jump.

The Clippers added two great role players in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley (two players the Grizzlies should’ve grabbed if they wanted to improve their team), but the main acquisition is coach Doc Rivers. I believe he’s the missing piece the Clippers need to move on to the next level. I truly want to see Chris Paul’s ferociousness in the NBA Finals at least one time before Paul is done. With the talent on this Clippers team, I think it’s his best chance.

Even then, there’s so much that can happen. People counted out San Antonio last year and they came within one possession of winning the NBA title. I don’t think the Spurs got any better, basically exchanging Gary Neal for Marco Belinelli. But they didn’t get any worse either and at the very least Kawhi Leonard is going to be a better player. The key here is getting another fantastic near-MVP season out of Tony Parker and continuing to extend the career of Tim Duncan by being stubborn with his minutes.

With the Thunder, they are the team that I hope gets to the finals from a pure basketball enjoyment standpoint. I love it when the very best players in the league play the longest. It feels justified when LeBron James and Kevin Durant are playing on the big stage. It’s why I’d like to see Paul get there too. But there are definitely small questions when it comes to the Thunder that need answers. Durant’s brilliance (and Russ Westbrook’s dynamic athletic excellence) will take them very far. They may have gotten to the finals last year if Westbrook didn’t get hurt. But, does Russ come back at full strength? How do they replace Kevin Martin’s shooting (I’m looking at you Jeremy Lamb)? Will they finally stop playing Kendrick Perkins who is a 0 on offense. Can Serge Ibaka play like an All-Star if Russ isn’t at full strength?

In Hardwood Paroxysm’s NBA Preview, they made a point that with Westbrook out, Ibaka slumped to 43% shooting, with the hypothesis that Ibaka is so dependent on others, that he’s a worse player without his point guard.

The best thing about writing up these previews is that all of the questions I have will be answered. That’s why I love the NBA season. It’s the perfect length of games with multiple games for each team each week, and it’s all unveiled in the most exciting post-season tournament going.

(In order of how I’d rank the West: 1. LA Clippers 2. Oklahoma City Thunder 3. San Antonio Spurs 4. Houston Rockets 5. Golden State Warriors 6. Memphis Grizzlies 7. Minnesota Timberwolves 8. LA Lakers 9. Dallas Mavericks 10. Denver Nuggets 11. Portland Trailblazers 12. New Orleans Pelicans 13. Sacramento Kings 14. Utah Jazz 15. Phoenix Suns.)

We’ll have our staff predictions tomorrow.

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