Western Conference Preview and What it Means for Blazers
With the season starting Tuesday, we take a look at Portland’s competition in the Western Conference this year. The West is just as loaded as ever with the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs all convincingly able unseat the Heat of their throne.
The Blazers open play October 31st against the Lakers at home. But where does Portland sit? Are they a top team, near the bottom or somewhere in-between. To get a solid grasp of where they sit, you have to know who they’re playing.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the teams in the NBA Western Conference and how they impact the Blazers.
Note: teams are listed alphabetically with Portland at end
Projected Starters: Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman
Outlook: The Mavs only have two players back—Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion—from their 2011 championship squad, and with Dirk out to start the season, Big D could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
What it means to Portland: The Blazers could be seeking their first win on Nov. 5 in Dallas. After a tough opening schedule the Blazers play the Mavs in what will be the fourth game of the year.
Projected Starters: Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Javale McGee
Outlook: The Nuggets have one of the deepest teams in the league with the capability to bring at least eight capable NBA players off their bench at any time. Pair that with a legendary coach in George Karl and a solid starting five and you have the team most likely to challenge the Thunder, Spurs and Lakers at the top of the division.
What it means to Portland: Denver, who also in the Northwest Conference, seems a lock to finish second above the Blazers and behind Oklahoma City. The two teams meet in Portland’s third to last game of the season on April 14.
Projected Starters: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Andrew Bogut
Outlook: If Curry and Bogut can stay healthy, the Warriors could challenge for a rare post-season appearance. Youngsters Thompson and Barnes are both smooth shooting wings who are looking to breakout for a hopeful Golden State squad.
What it means to Portland: The Blazers and Warriors will meet in the final game of the regular season, and depending on the development of the two teams’ young players, it could decide the eighth and final playoff spot or who will have the better lottery pick.
Projected Starters: Jeremy Lin, Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Omer Asik
Outlook: The Rockets had an offseason facelift, making them hard to predict going forward. If Jeremy Lin, and the young core around him, can duplicate the Linsanity that took place in New York last year, the Rockets could potentially turn some heads this season.
What it means for Portland: Portland and Houston look to be pretty similar talent-wise, and we should see who has the edge pretty soon. They play each other in the third game of the season, Nov. 3.
Projected Starters: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Outlook: Last year’s media darling looks to make the jump from playoff participant to playoff contender this year. The talent is there, but head coach Vinny del Negro has proven in Chicago and LA that he struggles to translate talent into wins.
What it means to Portland: If Lillard continues to develop into the star he can be, the Blazers could pass the Clippers in the next couple of years in the West.
Projected Starters: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Outlook: Look out, Miami. The Lakers have arguably the best starting five in the NBA with the additions of future hall of famers Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. They will look to give the Kobe his sixth career ring.
What it means to Portland: The Blazers always seem to play tight, competitive games with the Lakers, but it may be difficult this year with LA’s revamped squad. The two teams open the season against each other on Halloween.
Projected Starters: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
Outlook: With a healthy Z-Bo, the Grizzlies will compete with the Nuggets and the Clippers for the four seed in the West.
What it means to Portland: Not much, actually. Blazers fans will surely be intrigued to see if Randolph can still star at the ripe age of 31.
Projected Starters: Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Outlook: The Wolves were supposed to be this year’s breakout Western Conference team…and then Kevin Love broke his hand. Budding star Ricky Rubio is still recovering from last year’s ACL tear. Love will be out 6-8 weeks and Rubio is hoping to return some time in December.
What it means to Portland: Plenty of Northwest intrigue here. Brandon Roy will try to resurrect his career in Minnesota, with Lake Oswego product Kevin Love looking to recover from injury and regain his MVP form. With major injuries, the Wolves—who once seemed a lock to finish higher than the Blazers in the Northwest division—may surprisingly finish worse than Portland.
Projected Starters: Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis
Outlook: What a solid offseason it was for New Orleans. Number one pick Anthony Davis will be a superstar in the NBA very shortly. Couple that with the Hornets’ resigning of Eric Gordon and trade for Ryan Anderson, and you have a team whose future looks incredibly bright.
What it means to Portland: The Rookie of the Year battle looks like it could be between Davis and Lillard. The talented rookies will likely exchange body blows all season in their pursuit of the award.
Projected Starters: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Outlook: After losing last year’s finals to Miami, Oklahoma City’s road back may be even tougher this year after the Laker’s offseason acquisitions. Durant will once again look to challenge LeBron for an MVP and an NBA Title.
What it means to Portland: Blazers fans will get to see the exciting Oklahoma City squad in game two if the regular season. The Blazers visit the Thunder on Nov. 2. Durant, Westbrook and co. come to the Rose Garden on Jan. 13.
Projected Starters: Goran Dragic, Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat
Outlook: The Suns appear headed for the lottery in their first year Post-Nash. Gortat and Dragic provide for an intriguing point-big combo, who could put up big numbers.
What it means to Portland: If things don’t go well in Portland, these two teams could be battling to see who will have the higher draft pick by the end of the year.
Projected Starters: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Outlook: The Kings are projected by many to finish in the bottom third of the conference, but if embattled, yet talented, center DeMarcus Cosuins can make the jump towards becoming elite, the Kings could have an outside shot at the eight seed.
What it means to Portland: The Blazers have back-to-back games against the Kings on Dec. 23 and Dec. 26, so fans could very well see consecutive Blazer wins over their Christmas break.
Projected Starters: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan
Outlook: Gregg Poppovich and the Spurs organization have managed to infuse youth around their aging, but still hugely productive trio of stars. They have a deep bench and play great defense and should be a strong candidate to win the West this season along with OKC and LA.
What it means to Portland: Another year, another strong Spurs team. Coach Pop and Tim Duncan don’t have many years left together, so sit back and try to enjoy it while it lasts.
Projected Starters: Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson
Outlook: The Jazz have an immensely talented frontcourt with Jefferson, Millsap, Derric Favors and Enes Kanter. Kanter and Favors are the future, so the Jazz may look to move either Jefferson or Millsap by the deadline.
What it means for Portland: The Blazers could be in the market for a big man. Should they be in the race, Utah looks like a good trade partner. The Blazers will battle with Utah and Minnesota for third place in the Northwest Division.
Projected Starters: Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson
Outlook: The Blazers still seem at least a year away from being a serious contender out west, but the future certainly looks bright. The pieces are there for what could be a perennial contender in the always-stacked Western Conference. Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard is the real deal at the point guard position. Pair him with LaMarcus Aldridge, and the Blazers have two guys who could appear in multiple All-Star games together. Wes Matthews, though he seems to hit somewhat of a ceiling, is a solid two-guard who can shoot and defend.
Nicolas Batum proved to be a more than capable starter last season, and has the potential to be a standout. It will be interesting to see the development of rookie center Meyers Leonard, who many experts feel was a reach with the number 11 pick in last year’s draft. The kid has all the potential in the world with a great blend of size and athleticism. While a playoff appearance would be considered unlikely, it would not be insane. The young players would have to step up and play above their years, which is not out of the question considering the talent some of them posses. Win or not this year, the Blazers have set themselves up very nicely moving forward.