2010-11 NBA Western Conference Preview: Shakeup behind the Lakers

Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson

Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson (Credit: Getty Images)

The highly anticipated offseason did little to upset the balance of power in the NBA’s Western Conference, with Phoenix likely taking the biggest hit in losing Amar’e Stoudemire to the Knicks. Look for the Lakers to reign supreme, but expect a shakeup in the remaining eight playoff seedings.

 

Contending

L.A. Lakers
Last season: 57-25
Key newcomer: Steve Blake
Coach: Phil Jackson (11th overall season with Lakers)
The Lakers were solid though not quite dominant en route to their repeat and 17th overall title; their 4.7-point differential per game was only sixth-best in the NBA. Look for Jackson to rest his core players a bit more this season — Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest are all north of 30 years old.

Utah Jazz
Last season: 53-29
Key newcomer: Al Jefferson
Coach: Jerry Sloan (23rd season)
As the No. 5 seed in last year’s playoffs, Utah dispatched Denver in six games before being swept by the Lakers. Look for the Jazz to put up a stronger fight this season with its bolstered frontcourt, where Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap ably replace the controversial Carlos Boozer.

 

Competing

Oklahoma City Thunder
Last season: 50-32
Key newcomer: Cole Aldrich
Coach: Scott Brooks (3rd season)
Kevin Durant didn’t stop after pushing the Lakers to six games in the first round of last year’s playoffs, as he carried the U.S. to its fourth FIBA World Championship. The front-runner for NBA MVP is flanked by rising stars in Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, but the Thunder lacks the depth needed to win the West.

Portland Trailblazers
Last season: 50-32
Key newcomer: Wesley Matthews
Coach: Nate McMillan (6th season)
Last season was something of a lost one for Portland because of injuries to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, yet the Blazers still managed 50 wins. While Oden may (wisely) have his minutes restricted, a healthy Roy and an emerging Nicholas Batum should put this defensive-minded team in a position to win a first-round playoff series for the first time since 2000.

San Antonio Spurs
Last season: 50-32
Key newcomers: James Anderson
Coach: Gregg Popovich (15th season)
Though most view the Spurs as an aging team, younger players like DeJuan Blair and George Hill are playing a larger role, while Tony Parker is just 28. San Antonio was second in the West with a 5.1 ppg differential and should make its 14th consecutive playoff appearance behind Popovich’s keen roster management.

Dallas Mavericks
Last season: 55-27
Key newcomer: Tyson Chandler
Coach: Rick Carlisle (3rd season)
Dallas spent its energy locking up the Southwest division, then bowed out to the Spurs in the playoffs’ first round. Look for coach Rick Carlisle to limit the minutes of key starters such as Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd and utilize the Mavs’ depth en route to an 11th-straight playoff appearance.

New Orleans Hornets
Last season: 37-45
Key newcomers: Trevor Ariza, Marco Bellineli
Coach: Monty Williams (1st season)
The Hornets’ season rests on Chris Paul’s shoulders; without him last year the team went just 14-23. Paul appears healthy, posting 8.4 apg in limited preseason minutes. He now has another scorer to dish to in Trevor Ariza, who poured in 14.9 ppg as a starter in Houston last season.

 

Aspiring

Denver Nuggets
Last season: 53-29
Key newcomer: Al Harrington
Coach: George Karl (7th season)
An early playoff exit was followed by rumors of Carmelo Anthony wanting out of Denver. Don’t expect a third straight Northwest division title, but if Karl can keep his Nuggets focused, expect an eighth-consecutive playoff appearance.

Phoenix Suns
Last season: 54-28
Key newcomers: Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress
Coach: Alvin Gentry (2nd season)
After averaging a NBA-best 110.2 ppg last season, the Suns’ offense will need to be reconfigured by Gentry to replace the departed Stoudemire’s 23.1 ppg. How the coach mixes in Turkoglu and Childress may determine Phoenix’s playoff destiny.

Houston Rockets
Last season: 42-40
Key newcomers: Courtney Lee, Patrick Patterson
Coach: Rick Adelman (4th season)
Houston has the talent to make the playoffs, but key contributors Yao Ming and Kevin Martin must shed their injury-prone status to make it happen. Much of the offensive burden will continue to fall on point guard Aaron Brooks, who thrived in the role last season.

Golden State Warriors
Last season: 26-56
Key newcomer: David Lee
Coach: Keith Smart (1st season)
Golden State averaged 108.8 points per game but finished at the bottom of the league in points allowed and rebounds per game. David Lee will be a beast on the boards and complements a talented backcourt of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis — but the Warriors’ lack of depth will be exposed.

L.A. Clippers
Last season: 29-53
Key newcomers: Ryan Gomes, Eric Bledsoe
Coach: Vinny Del Negro (1st season)
You’ve probably heard this before, but 2010-11 will be a fresh start for the Clippers. Del Negro begins his coaching tenure while Blake Griffin will finally debut — with high expectations following a 17.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg preseason. The team also added depth via the draft and free agency.

 

Uninspiring

Memphis Grizzlies
Last season: 40-42
Key newcomers: Xavier Henry
Coach: Lionel Hollins (2nd season)
Memphis wins by controlling the boards (43.5 rebounds per game), but needs to move the ball better (second-worst 18.8 assists per game) to maximize its offensive opportunities. The Grizzlies went guard-heavy in the draft to push incumbent point guard Mike Conley.

Sacramento Kings
Last season: 25-57
Key newcomers: DeMarcus Cousins, Samuel Dalembert
Coach: Paul Westphal (2nd season)
Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and talented first round pick DeMarcus Cousins give Kings fans something to get excited about, but bear in mind that Sacramento dropped 16 of its last 19 games and did little this offseason to address its defensive woes (104.4 points allowed per game).

 

Expiring

Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season: 15-67
Key newcomers: Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley
Coach: Kurt Rambis (2nd season)
When the Wolves traded Kevin Garnett to the Celtics for Al Jefferson three years ago, it marked the beginning of their rebuilding. Minnesota’s trade of Jefferson this offseason restarts the reconstruction and assures another long winter for its fans.

Tags: Sports , L.A. Lakers , Kobe Bryant , Phil Jackson

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