Last week we previewed the Atlantic Division in the East. This week we kick off with the Northwest Division in the brutal Western Conference. The Oklahoma City squad is primed to rule this division for the next decade and the former rulers of the divison, Denver and Utah look to struggle. It's time for the new guard to take effect in the Northwest. the Timberwolves will be the only disapointment in an otherwise competitive division.
NORTHWEST DIVISION PREVIEW
Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Season : 50-32
Ins : C Cole Aldrich, C Tibor Pleiss, PF Ryan Reid, SF Latavious Williams
Outs : None
What 2 Watch For : The team remained idle over the summer period banking on another year of growth from its young core. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrrok will be better for their experience in Turkey representing the US and the Thunder's role players such Harden, Ibaka and even rookie Cole Aldrich should contribute quality minutes. Hopefully complacency won't be an issue following the successful run last season but coach Scott Brooks won't allow such things to occur. Watch for Kevin Durant to have an MVP type season. If somebody else can step up to help Durant, the Thunder will be the only serious challenger to the Lakers this season. Along with Miami, this is the most intriguing team to watch. Great chemistry between the players and a hunger to succeed. A young core that is going to dominate the league for the next decade.
Prediction : 1st 57-25
Last Season : 50-32
Ins : G Wesley Matthews, SF Luke Babbitt, SG Elliot Williams, PG Armon Johnson
Outs : G Martell Webster, F Juwan Howard, F Travis Outlaw
What 2 Watch For : Health. This team was absolutely decimated last season with injury. No team in the league lost more games per player than Portland to injury. And yet they mangaged an admirable loss to Houston in the first round of the playoffs. Joel Pryzbilla should be in the lineup come tip off but Greg Oden's future is looking a little more shaky. The oft injured big man is struggling to recover from his knee injury and the Blazers are taking the slow and steady approach. Brandon Roy will be asked to carry this team as he was last year when he wasn't sidelined with some injury either. Guard Wesley Matthews was added from Utah, should provide some scoring off the bench that the Blazers lost when Outlaw was dealt to New Jersey. When healthy this team could challenge for a second round berth in the playoffs Anything more than that may be a stretch.
Prediction : 2nd 54-28
Last Season : 53-29
Ins : F Al Jefferson, SF Gordon Hayward, PF Jeremy Evans
Outs : F Carlos Boozer, F Kyle Korver, G Wesley Matthews, G Ronnie Brewer
What 2 Watch For : The tandem between Deron Williams and new PF Al Jefferson. The departed Carlos Boozer was a great player for the Jazz but Jefferson is a step up. He has more size, power and better finishing around the basket. Not to mention a better low post game. Williams should be running the pick and roll with Big Al everytime down the floor. The loss of Korver and Brewer will be offset by the addition of Gordon Hayward who can shoot the lights out and assuming that Andrei Kirilenko plays like his old self, capable of getting you 15,10 and 4-5 blocks a night the Jazz will be up amongst it once again. Coach Jerry Sloan has an impeccable record of overachieving even with rosters that seem a little lacking. This year should be no different.
Prediction : 49-33
Last Season : 53-29
Ins : F Al Harrington, F Shelden Williams
Outs : Carmelo Anthony?
What 2 Watch For : This team is in turmoil right now. The cloud of Carmelo Anthony's alleged trade demands hang over the team and while he is still performing at his best on the court, the issue of his wanting to be there is still lingering. Kenyon Martin has voiced his displeasure with Nuggets management to add to the list of disgruntled workers in Colorado. Even with Anthony gone this is still a solid basketball team. The addition of Al Harrington adds a versatile forward who can post up and can step out and shoot the three ball. Sheldon William is probably best known as Candace Parker's husband and was last seen languishing on the Celtics bench but has put up some nice scoring numbers in the pre season. He will be asked to contribute early in the season with K-Mart injured until December at the earliest and Ty Lawson emerges as a solid backup the playoffs are still in reach for this Denver Squad.
Prediction : 4th 43-39
Last Season : 15-67
Ins : G Sebastian Telfair, G Luke Ridnour, F Michael Beasley, F Martell Webster, C Kosta Koufos, SF Wesley Johnson, SF Lazar Hayward, SF Nemanja Bjelica, C Paulao Prestes
Outs : C Al Jefferson, C Ryan Hollins
What 2 Watch For : Things have been gloomy in Minnesota since The Big Ticket was dealt to Boston. There was the whole Ricky Rubio fiasco but PG Jonny Flynn has made people say, "Ricky Who?" with his play. Newcomer Michael Beasley had high raps on him coming into the league but struggled to find consistency in Miami. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the triangle offence system run by Kurt Rambis. General Manager David Kahn must take some of the blame for letting Al Jefferson go for nothing in return as this young team will need a few more seasons to reallt develop. For the moment the load will be shouldered by Kevin Love, Flynn, Beasley and Corey Brewer. Hardly an appetising thought for success starved T-Wolves fans. There will be more misery before there is any joy.
Prediction : 5th 22-60