Blakely's Western Conference preview
Blakely's Western Conference preview
BOSTON -- As unexpected as Golden State’s title run was last season, just as improbable has been the backlash from others trying to diminish the Warriors' achievement.
Whether it’s Houston’s James Harden complaining (again) about being snubbed for the league MVP award, which went to Warriors’ Stephen Curry, or ex-Celtics coach Doc Rivers implying Golden State got lucky, the Warriors aren’t getting much love from their NBA brethren -- and that may be just what they need to repeat.
Players have often said the only thing tougher than winning an NBA title, is coming back the next season and doing it again.
Far too often, complacency sets in because the grind needed to win it all, isn’t what it used to be.
But whatever the Warriors may have lost in terms of hunger has been replenished with what they see as one slight after another.
Here’s a look at how the Western Conference stacks up heading into the regular season which begins on Tuesday.
BACK OF THE PACK
15. Denver Nuggets – Unloading Ty Lawson was just the beginning of the Nuggets rebuild, which will be centered around Emmanuel Mudiay.
14. Minnesota – The Timberwolves will play some inspired basketball this season following the death of Flip Saunders. But their youth, and a talent-rich Western Conference full of battle-tested squads, will keep them from moving too far up the standings.
13. Portland – The departure of LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews leaves the Blazers with little more than Damian Lillard -- who is talented, but not talented enough to carry this group into the playoffs.
TRAILING THE PACK
12. Sacramento – Rajon Rondo gets another shot at re-establishing his value, but it still remains to be seen if he fits in with George Karl’s style of play.
11. Dallas – Still smarting from DeAndre Jordan’s last-minute change of heart, the cupboard is looking pretty bare for the Mavericks, who don't figure to be a playoff team this season.
10. Los Angeles Lakers – Even a relatively healthy Kobe Bryant won’t be enough to turn around a Lakers team that had a league-worst -16.0 net rating last season.
MIDDLE OF THE PACK
9. Phoenix – Tyson Chandler provides rim-protection for a Suns team that ranked in the top 10 last season in defensive rating.
8. Utah – Even without Dante Exum, the Jazz have size, versatility in the backcourt and enough depth to squeak into the playoffs this year.
7. New Orleans – If Anthony Davis adds a reliable 3-point shot to his game, the transition to Davis from LeBron James as the league’s best player will be quicker than expected.
RUNNING WITH THE PACK
6. Memphis – Their rough-and-tumble brand of basketball will only go so far. Few teams need a long-range shot maker more than the Grizzlies.
5. Oklahoma City – A healthy Kevin Durant in a contact year does not bode well for foes who feasted off the Thunder a year ago in his absence.
4. Houston – The Rockets are right there on the cusp of being an NBA Finals team and are hoping the sting of James Harden’s league MVP runner-up finish and a healthier Dwight Howard will do the trick.
LEADERS OF THE PACK
3. Los Angeles Clippers – No one is saying much about it but there’s a definite “now or never” mentality with the Clippers, who need to take that next step and at least get to the Western Conference finals.
2. San Antonio – They rich just got richer this summer. San Antonio landed one of the top free agents (LaMarcus Aldridge), re-signed its own (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green), and had its head coach (Gregg Popovich) named to succeed Mike Krzyzewski as Team USA’s head coach for the 2020 Olympics.
1. Golden State – One of the most enjoyable teams to watch in the NBA, it remains to be seen how big an impact will coach Steve Kerr’s absence -- he's out indefinitely because of complications from back surgery -- be on the Warriors' quest at a second straight NBA title.