By Jonathan Lee
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A wild offseason of trades, vetoes, and free agent moves drastically altered the landscape of the NBA’s Western conference.
One thing has carried over from last season however, and that is Dallas at the head of the pack. The Mavericks begin their championship defense as the top forecasted team in the West with 44 wins. The loss of Tyson Chandler was partly offset by the addition of Lamar Odom. Vince Carter, and the return to health of Roddy Beaubois bolster the backcourt.
The big move this offseason though was obviously the vetoed trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers and his subsequent arrival on the Clippers. Now the Lakers, Clippers, and Thunder are basically forecasted evenly in some order in slots two through four in the West. All three teams are projected for almost 43 wins and a 92 percent chance at the postseason. The Lakers are still slightly more likely to win the Pacific Division than the Clippers, but are already dealing with another injury to Kobe Bryant. The Thunder will now deal with being a true target every night, and one of the de facto favorites to reach the Finals.
The Spurs, Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Blazers round out the projected playoff teams in the West. San Antonio is the most likely team out of that group to make the postseason. Despite the age of Tim Duncan, the Spurs are built for a solid regular season with great coaching from Gregg Poppovich and a solid support cast that play their roles perfectly. Denver is really a team that could be better than expected despite the loss of three players to China because of overall depth. The Nuggets appear to have enough quality talent to rotate up to 12 players nightly which will be a big factor with the compressed schedule. They are better equipped than most to handle one or two minor injuries, and could improve even more if J.R. Smith or Wilson Chandler are able to return earlier than expected.
The Grizzlies are surprisingly only 61.3 percent likely to make the playoffs despite nearly making the Finals a season ago. That is because their track record in the regular season has not been great even factoring in the return of Rudy Gay. Remember that Memphis was only the 8-seed last year, and this forecast reflects the lack of overall depth on this roster. Any injury particularly in the frontcourt would decimate this team, but a full season of health could propel this to be a under projection.
Portland is slotted in the final playoff spot mostly as the best of the rest of the remaining team. The Blazers do have a deep perimeter contingent, but like Memphis are very thin up front. Their talent does suggest that they are a playoff team and they are thus forecasted to finish in the top 8 in the West 57 percent of the time.
Golden State, Houston, Utah, New Orleans, and Minnesota are all forecast in the 24-32 win range with only Phoenix having more than a 25 percent chance at the playoffs. Sacramento is currently projected as the worst team in the West with just 21.4 wins and a 6 percent chance at the playoffs. Even the Kings however have a chance to outplay this projection depending on the play of talented young players like Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Minnesota is in the same situation with Derrick Williams, Ricky Rubio, and Kevin Love. Really the Wolves and Kings might be in better situations to improve with young talent and at the bottom of the standings compared to in-between teams like the Warriors, Suns, Rockets, and Jazz.
|Oklahoma City Thunder||42.6||23.5||64.5%||63.0%||92.3%|
|San Antonio Spurs||38.0||28.0||57.6%||22.5%||76.8%|
|Portland Trail Blazers||33.9||32.2||51.3%||14.0%||56.9%|
|Golden State Warriors||31.8||34.2||48.2%||5.1%||45.9%|
|New Orleans Hornets||25.0||41.0||37.8%||0.7%||14.7%|