The West have been a powerhouse for years now. Making the playoffs in this conference is no easy feat. The competition is tougher, and for lower seeded teams, making into a guaranteed playoff spot is always a struggle. A lot have changed in the West since last season, some teams went under construction, some added new players, but one thing is for sure, the strong remained strong. Any thing can happen in a full 82 game season, here are my predictions for the 2012-2013 western conference playoff spots.
1. San Antonio Spurs
I got to give it to the Spurs. Every year you expect a drop off, but they always make a late run to the top. Not much has changed to the solid Spurs team, their core group remained intact, and the bench stayed just as deep. Tony Parker will once again pick up the baton and conduct beautiful music with this team. This time however, he will have more help from Kawhi Leonard whose continuous improvement can guide this team to a deep playoff run.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Coming off the beating they took in Game 5 at the hands of the Miami Heat, the reigning western conference final champions will play with a sense of revenge. The Thunder comes back this year without any veterans. They instead, added more youth, drafting the enigmatic Perry Jones III, and picked up Hashen Thabeet. All is good for Scott Brooks, Eric Maynor returns from his knee injury, providing OKC with a defensive back up point guard.
This might be Thunder's best shot at winning the Larry O' Brien trophy. After this season, James Harden will likely be gone. Kevin Durant and company will have to take advantage of this opportunity to seal the deal. They will give the Spurs a run for their money as the top seed, but inconsistency will be a factor, as they can often shoot themselves out of the game.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
Without a doubt, the biggest story of the whole summer, adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, makes this team a title contender again, and a damn good one too. They added more offensive weapons to their bench, with Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. The problem for the team is that it still lacks depth and defensive presence (except Dwight Howard, of course). Mike Brown will need to make this team gel quick, and find ways to rest his stars, without letting leads blow away.
I would put them up higher in the seeds, but in a 82 game season, for a roster full of aging players, injuries are inevitable. Any injury to the core group, will cost them games. If they somehow stay healthy, they would take 2nd seed. Don't even think about 73-9 Metta World Peace, you will be lucky to get 60 wins.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
No idea how the new flopping rule will affect this team. I do know that they still have their all stars, and they will definitely improve with a full training camp. Giving Chris Paul time to adjust with his teammates will make this team all the more offensively devastating. With Billups returning, they will get a veteran guard that can control the pace and hit shots when it matters. Additions of Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill provides more overall depth.
Defensively, the Clippers will miss Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans who held down the paint for them. DeAndre Jordan will have to pick up the responsibilities of guarding the west big men, which will be different than his usual help defensive role. How well he adjusts to this change will determine where the Clippers stand.
5. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets will stay burning the soles of their opponents with their incredible speed. Andre Iguodala provides them with versatility at both ends of the floor. His defense will be heavily relied on, especially against fellow All Star players from opposing teams. Javale McGee should have settled in to Denver by now, and if he absorbed even half of what he learned from Hakeem Olajuwan this summer, it will give the Nuggets something in a half court situation.
Ty Lawson will be appointed to lead this team on the open floor, despite his height, he is a huge threat offensively in transition. Gallinari has to play at an All Star level for this team to get to the second round, he can not continue to miss open opportunities. This team will have a lot of defensive troubles, hopefully Kenneth Faried, McGee and Timofey Mozgov can cover the porous back court defense.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies was a surprising 4th seed last year. This time around, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph have time to mesh together. The front court of Marc Gasol and Randolph is the key to this team's success. They have to rely on post scoring or involving them in some kind of play to find points. This will be a gritty defensive team, but on offense the lack of shooting can hurt them in the long run.
7. Dallas Mavericks
Another team you can never count out. The Mavericks rebuilt their front court with Chris Kaman and Elton Brand. Kaman gives the Mavs something that never got from Haywood, an actual offensive package in the low post. This depth in the front court is new to the team, and Rick Carlise will have to figure it out. Without other offensive pieces, the Mavs will be fighting for this spot, and possibly a early playoff exit.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves - Utah Jazz
Edge to Timberwolves if Ricky Rubio comes back 100%, if not Jazz will sneak in at 8 again. The Wolves have all the pieces to take this spot if they can manage to stay off the injury list. Kevin Love will continue to put up big numbers, and new wings Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy can put points up in bunches.
The Jazz kept their bigs, which will be a plus in the west. Favors and Hayward are bound for a break out season, and if the new back court of Mo and Marvin Williams work out, they can easily creep up on Minnesota.
The Others (Not in Order):
Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry is finally back, hopefully for good. This team might make a splash late in the season, only if Bogut comes back, Klay Thompson's promising future holds up and the rookies adjust quickly. Oh, and they will have to learn how to play defense too.
I don't even know what is going on with this team. They have alot of talent but they just never seemed to be able to get it together. For any playoff hopes, they will have to make some changes.
Portland Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets
These are all teams in rebuilding mode, the future is bright for the Suns and Hornets. As for Blazers and Rockets, it is not looking too good.