With what looked to be several championship level teams before the season started, a season ago, the phrase ‘Wild Wild West’ was used prominently to describe how crazy the NBA’s Western Conference race could be. That phrase couldn’t have been more untrue, as the ‘Wild Wild West’ quickly turned into a ‘Warriors Runaway’.
The Warriors got out to the best start to a season in NBA history by winning their first 24 games. They, went on to win 73 games for the season, surpassing the NBA-record 72 wins set by Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
Nothing can be taken away from the Warriors’ success, but the fact that the West was down as a whole didn’t hurt. The Spurs began to show their age. The 2015 Western Conference runner-up Houston Rockets, were a complete mess. In L.A., the Clippers lost Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin at the start of the playoffs, and the Portland Trailblazers were just too young.
The one team that played toe to toe with, and should have beaten the 2-time West champs, isn’t the same anymore. Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder lost Kevin Durant to the Warriors of all teams, and they traded Serge Ibaka. So, has anything changed out west? Can anyone challenge the supposedly even stronger Golden State Warriors, or will we witness another ‘Warriors Runaway’? Let’s take a look with Sports & Swag’s NBA 2016 Western Conference Preview, starting with Sports & Swag’s Preseason All-Conference team…..
West All-Conference 1st Team
F Kevin Durant
F Kawhi Leonard
C DeMarcus Cousins
G James Harden
G Russell Westbrook
F Blake Griffin
C Karl Anthony-Towns
G Klay Thompson
G Stephen Curry
G Chris Paul
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Brandon Ingram – Lakers
Biggest Additions besides KD….. Pau Gasol – Spurs, Ryan Anderson – Rockets, Victor Oladipo – Thunder
Biggest Loss besides KD….. Tim Duncan – Spurs, Andrew Bogut – Warriors, Dwight Howard – Rockets,
Team on the Rise: Jazz
Team on the Decline: Mavericks
DIVISION BY DIVISION PREDICTIONS
1. SPURS – They’re still too old and slow to compete for a title. The loss of Tim Duncan could prove to be huge. Adding Pau Gasol should soften the blow. It will be interesting to see how Coach Pop moves on with this lineup. Spurs still best in this division.
2. ROCKETS – It’s time for James Harden to prove his critics wrong. And, even though I’m a Rockets fan, I’ve been one of them. Mike D’Antoni’s up and down style should fit The Beard well. The shooting should be better around him with Ryan Anderson, and Nene wasn’t a bad pick up to replace Dwight Howard. Houston could surprise.
3. GRIZZLIES – Not sure what to make of Grizzlies adding Chandler Parsons. Could be good pick up if he’s healthy. But…. Other than that, not much changed. Key will be perimeter shooting and keeping Marc Gasol and Mike Conley healthy. Griz or Rockets will likely be last teams in playoffs from this division.
4. MAVERICKS – Rick Carlisle, is one the best and most underrated coaches in the game today. Dirk Nowitzki, is also one of the most professional players you’ll find. But, even they may not be enough to squeeze another playoff appearance out of this aging squad, as they pay for Mark Cuban, whiffing on just about every free agent there was the last couple seasons.
5. PELICANS – Not much was done to help Anthony Davis in the off-season. So, now the pressure is really on to keep ‘The Brow’ happy and content in New Orleans. Difficult seeing that happen for a team that will likely not contend for a playoff spot.
1. BLAZERS – The addition of Festus Ezeli should be a big help to guys like Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The single biggest weakness of this team was interior defense and rebounding. Ezeli, isn’t perfect, but he should help. Of course, the Blazers will ultimately only go as far as Lillard and McCollum take them.
2. THUNDER – GM, Sam Presti, did about all he could do to keep Kevin Durant, but in the end it wasn’t enough. Now, can the Thunder stay afloat with Russell Westbrook by himself? It probably would have been a bit easier if Serge Ibaka weren’t in Orlando. But, he is. Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams are still formidable, and Oladipo is a nice addition. But, who will be able to step up and provide scoring on the wing is anyone’s guess right now.
3. JAZZ – Don’t be surprised if the Jazz place higher in the Northwest Division. The Jazz just missed the playoffs last season. There’s good young talent on the perimeter in Gordon Hayward. Rudy Gobert, is one of the best young big men around, and now the Jazz have veteran scoring punch from Joe Johnson. If, Johnson comes in with the right attitude, and George Hill works out as well at point, look out!
4. TIMBERWOLVES – Tom Thibodeau, takes over head coaching duties in Minneapolis, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The T-Wolves have two of the rising stars of the NBA in Karl Anthony-Towns (KAT), and Andrew Wiggins. The questions for this team are pretty much the same from last season. Is Ricky Rubio good enough at point, and who’s going to knock down a jumper? Kris Dunn, was a nice 1st-round pick, but he may or may not be the answer because of his shooting. T-Wolves should still see improvement, regardless.
5. NUGGETS – Jamal Murray could end up being an impact player out of the draft. Other than that, it’s pretty much the status quo in the Mile High City. Not much to get excited about. Emmanuel Mudiay, was thought by some to be the best point guard of the 2015 NBA Draft. The Nuggets have to hope he’ll begin to show that form this season.
1. WARRIORS – It wouldn’t be too surprising if Golden State challenges their own record of 73 wins this season. But, it really wouldn’t matter. This team will be judged on if they win the title or not. The pressure to win that title will be like it has never been for any other team. Sure, they can handle it. Draymond Green’s leadership, and the scoring assault we should see from the Splash Fam will undoubtedly be must see tv on a nightly basis. But, how they respond to the pressure of the later rounds of the playoffs, and whether the lack of rim protection is big a deal or not, will determine whether DubNation sees another championship parade in the Bay Area.
2. CLIPPERS – If there is any team that could spoil the Splash Fam’s party out west, it’s probably the L.A. Clippers. Unfortunately, injuries kept them from getting a shot at the Warriors in last season’s playoffs. The nucleus of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford are all back. The problem is, they didn’t add much. Marreese Speights, was a decent pick up, but he’s not a difference maker. This could be the end of the line for these Clips as we know them.
3. SUNS – The Phoenix Suns looked like a team on the rise at the start of last season. Led by a pretty dynamic backcourt, with Eric Bledsoe, and Brandon Knight, and the acquisition of Tyson Chandler, there rumblings of the Suns competing for a playoff spot. Then, Bledsoe got injured, and that was the end of that. Devin Booker, however, was a bright spot. Booker, looks like a star in the making, and could make a nice tandem with Bledsoe. Still, not sure how or if Knight really fits in. Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss were nice pick ups in the draft.
4. LAKERS – The days of Kobe Bryant wearing a Laker uniform are officially gone. But, that could be the start of good things happening to the Purple & Gold. Brandon Ingram, looks like a premier player for years to come, and DeAngelo Russell had some nice moments last season. Jordan Clarkson, also returns. Biggest question now is, how good can Julius Randle be, and how can the Lakers become a player again in the free agent market?
5. KINGS – Demarcus Cousins is still there, and now they have a brand new spanking arena. That’s the good news. The bad news is they may not be able to keep Cousins, and if they don’t, their brand new spanking arena will be empty once the novelty wears off.
Hope you enjoyed Sports & Swag’s NBA 2016 Western Conference Preview. For more NBA throughout the season, including a look at the Eastern Conference, continue to visit sportsandswag.com and follow Sports & Swag on social media.