NBA Preview: Northwest Division
Much of the Thunder success this season will depend on the health of Russell Westbrook. The star point guard is expect to miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season, but if he returns healthy, the Thunder should remain right at the top of the Western Conference. Kevin Durant is going to have another MVP season this year and I expect him to take home the MVP over King James. It will be impossible to finish with 60 wins once again, especially without Westbrook to start the season. Their presence in the paint with Serge Ibaka will be a force, but Kendrick Perkins needs to be a factor. The loss of Kevin Martin will play a role on offense and that is a big reason I don’t see them winning the West, but they should take home the Northwest Division title pretty handedly.
2. Denver Nuggets (52-30)
The Nuggets suffered a big loss in the offseason losing their swingman Andre Igoudala, but they did add some nice depth to their squad. Denver added J.J. Hickson, Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, and Darrell Arthur. Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried lead this team, but none are star players that can carry them. That will be the Nuggets biggest issue once again this season. They will definitely be a playoff team, but without a true scorer, rookie head coach Brian Shaw won’t be able to get this team out of the first round of the playoffs. Until the Nuggets can bring in a superstar, it's hard to imagine them as an elite team in the NBA.
3. Portland Trail Blazers (41-41)
The Trail Blazers made plenty of noise in the offseason that should get them in the playoff conversation. Portland added Robin Lopez, Mo Williams, and Thomas Robinson to join Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and rookie sensation last year Damian Lillard. This squad has a lot of young talent and should be fun to watch, but they are still a couple of players away from being major contenders. If there is a sleeper team to pick to make the playoffs, it's the Trail Blazers because of the remarkable offseason they had. Look for them to finish in third place and come very close to that final playoff spot.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves (34-48)
The Timberwolves are still very young and need some more pieces to become relevant in the Western Conference. With that being said, the combination of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will be great to watch if they are able to stay healthy. That has been the major question mark for them so far in their career. Minnesota also brought in shooting guard Kevin Martin and drafted UCLA product Shabazz Muhammed, but he is not expected to be a star in the NBA. The Timberwolves won’t be seeing the playoffs yet, but the rebuilding process is moving along nicely.
5. Utah Jazz (25-57)
The Jazz will be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. Their only two good players, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, have left Utah for the Eastern Conference. This team has a lot of young players that will be adjusting to the NBA as they rebuild for the future. Trey Burke was a good pick in the draft and they should be getting another lottery pick next season because this team will be hard to watch. Expect the Jazz to be irrelevant all year as they are still a while from being even put in the same sentence as the playoffs.