NBA Season Preview: Western Conference

Nick Hedges , Reporter

The Cleveland Cavaliers have already been picked in the East, but who will face them out of the West? Will it be the obvious choice in the Golden State Warriors? Can someone else upset the Warriors and stop them? We’ll find out soon enough. For now, here is our preview of the Western Conference.


15. nuggets Denver Nuggets
Key Players:
F Kenneth Faried, G Emmanuel Mudiay
Finish Last Year: 11 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: After a season last year that saw the Nuggets surprisingly compete for a playoff spot, Denver will look to replicate and improve on that success this season. However, the Nuggets really only have two primary producers in Faried and Mudiay. F Danilo Gallinari could be another major contributor, but with injury problems last year and an uncertain future in Denver, he may not be able to be relied upon for consistent production. Lacking true depth and superstardom, don’t be surprised if the Nuggets fall to the bottom of the West.


14. lakers Los Angeles Lakers
Key Players:
SF Luol Deng, PG D’Angelo Russell
Finish Last Year: 15 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: The Lakers will reluctantly begin the post-Kobe era this season. After an unforgettable farewell, the Lakers will now have to find how to replace him. They have several players that could contribute so much, but the question is, will they? New signing Deng and rising star Russell will lead the way, helped by a mixture of young talent and veteran wisdom, highlighted by number two pick F Brandon Ingram and G Lou Williams. If everyone plays to their potential, the Lakers could compete for a playoff spot, but, given the last few seasons and the coaching turnover this offseason, the Lakers’ chances of success are not very high.


13. suns Phoenix Suns
Key Players:
G Eric Bledsoe, G Brandon Knight
Finish Last Year: 14 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: Eric Bledsoe will have to have the season of his life if Phoenix wants to compete in the West this year. Knight and C Tyson Chandler will help him get there, but the Suns will live or die on Bledsoe’s success. If he has a career year, the Suns could compete, but if he ends up average like he was last year, expect similar results  for the team.


12. kings Sacramento Kings
Key Players:
C DeMarcus Cousins, SF Rudy Gay
Finish Last Year: 10 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: The Kings have the talent necessary to compete in the West, but the question for Sacramento is depth. The bench will have to play above its talent if the Kings want a chance at the playoffs. Cousins and Gay, along with PG Darren Collison and G Arron Afflalo, will comprise a solid starting five, but the ability of the role players on the team will define their success, and it’s hard to see success in the near future for the Kings’ bench players.


11. twolves Minnesota Timberwolves
Key Players:
C Karl-Anthony Towns, F Andrew Wiggins
Finish Last Year: 13 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: Minnesota has possibly found a playoff-caliber one-two punch with Towns and Wiggins. Add PG Ricky Rubio and electrifying G Zach LaVine to the mix, and the Timberwolves may have something formidable. The x-factor will be first round pick G Kris Dunn out of Providence. He could possibly give them a scoring option they desperately need. In the East, Minnesota is probably a playoff team, but in a tough Western Conference, Minnesota still needs depth and consistency from Dunn and Rubio to have a chance.


10. jazz Utah Jazz
Key Players:
G Rudy Gobert, PG George Hill
Finish Last Year: 9 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: The Jazz are a curious bunch. Upon initial review, the team looks like a bottom-feeder, with little-to-know star power and a roster full of no-names and burnouts. However, the team still maintains consistent success, only missing the playoffs by one win last year. They just play well. Gobert led the charge last year, and the acquisition of Hill from Indiana will surely help. While they lack the stardom of many other contenders in the West, don’t be surprised to see Utah fighting for a playoff spot.


9. rockets Houston Rockets
Key Players:
G Eric Gordon, G James Harden
Finish Last Year: 8 (eliminated by Golden State in five game first round series)
Season Outlook: Houston has been rather disappointing team the last few seasons. With plenty of star power on the roster, the team still struggled to make it to the playoffs and barely gave Golden State a fight once they got there. Now that C Dwight Howard has gone to Atlanta, Harden will have to be Superman and some for the Rockets to have a chance. He’ll have to have an MVP year if Houston wants to inch into the postseason, but even if they do, it’s hard to predict success for the Rockets in the end.


8. pelicans  New Orleans Pelicans
Key Players: C Anthony Davis, SF Tyreke Evans
Finish Last Year: 12 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: Led by The Brow, Anthony Davis, the Pelicans look like a promising team that should compete for a playoff spot. Evans and newly drafted G Buddy Hield from Oklahoma will help as well. However, the Pelicans’ success will hinge on the status of G Jrue Holiday, who will miss the beginning of the season taking care of his cancer-stricken wife. If Holiday comes back not early in the season, New Orleans has a good shot, but if the Pelicans have to go without him for the bulk of the playoffs, they will struggle to get into the playoffs.


7. mavs Dallas Mavericks
Key Players: SF Harrison Barnes, PF Dirk Nowitzki
Finish Last Year: 6 (eliminated by Oklahoma City in five game first round series)
Season Outlook: Always flying under the radar, the Mavs quietly pushed into the playoffs. Yet, in their series with Oklahoma City, there was definitely something missing from the Dallas lineup. Now, they may have filled that void by stealing Barnes away from Golden State. If Barnes can fulfill the expectations associated with his massive contract, the Mavericks will be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Throw legendary PF Nowitzki and another former Warrior C Andrew Bogut into the mix, and Dallas could have a formidable lineup.


6. thunder Oklahoma City Thunder
Key Players: 
G Victor Oladipo, G Russell Westbrook
Finish Last Year: 3 (eliminated by Golden State in seven game Western Conference Finals series)
Season Outlook: OKC was on the wrong end of the biggest news of the off-season, as Kevin Durant jumped ship to Golden State. Now, the post-KD era begins, with Westbrook clearly the team’s top dog. While Russ will probably be in the hunt for MVP, he’ll need some help if the Thunder are to be successful. Newly acquired G Victor Oladipo will surely be his new right-hand man, while freakish C Steven Adams will present a formidable force up front. If all goes well, expect Oklahoma City to be in the thick of the playoff chase, even without Durant.


5. blazers Portland Trail Blazers
Key Players: G Damian Lillard, F Evan Turner
Finish Last Year: 5 (eliminated by Golden State in five game second round series)
Season Outlook: Another team that will fly under the radar, the Trail Blazers will look to build on a promising season last year. Many have Lillard pegged as a sure-fire MVP candidate, and supporting pieces like Turner will help the team play on a level on-par with last year. Now, upon review, the team lacks major talent across the board, and will need Lillard to fulfill his MVP expectations. If he manages to do this, Portland will be fighting for positioning in the playoffs.


4. grizz Memphis Grizzlies
Key Players: G Mike Conley, F Chandler Parsons
Finish Last Year: 7 (eliminated by San Antonio in four game first round series)
Season Outlook: After a surprisingly successful season last year, Memphis will look to repeat and build on that success. After signing Conley to the biggest contract in NBA history, expectations will be high for him, along with Parsons, signed away from Dallas during the summer. Team chemistry will be the key for the Grizzlies this year. If they can find a consistent starting five that produces well and works together, then Memphis will be very dangerous.


3. clippers Los Angeles Clippers
Key Players: F Blake Griffin, PG Chris Paul
Finish Last Year: 4 (eliminated by Portland in six game first round series)
Season Outlook: The Clippers will once again be a front runner in the West, with Griffin, Paul, and C DeAndre Jordan making up a formidable “Big 3.” The Clippers can possibly challenge the top two in the conference if they can form solid support behind those three. The trio will get them plenty far as the postseason is concerned, but, as exposed by Portland last year, they must establish consistent depth all-around to compete for a conference championship.


2. spurs San Antonio Spurs
Key Players: F LaMarcus Aldridge, F Kawhi Leonard
Finish Last Year: 2 (eliminated by Oklahoma City in six game second round series)
Season Outlook: The post-Tim Duncan era begins in San Antonio as the Spurs will look to win another championship, old-school style. Leonard is the future of the team and already the team’s most productive player. Paired with Aldridge, the Spurs have a really solid 1-2 combo. Of course, the team will fly under the radar as a constantly successful team, under quirky but genius coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs will definitely challenge atop the West. The question is, how far will they rise?


1. warriors Golden State Warriors
Key Players: 
G Stephen Curry, F Kevin Durant
Finish Last Year: 1 (lost to Cleveland in NBA Finals)
Season Outlook: The record-breaking Warriors of last year not only broke the record for most wins in a season, but also became the first team to blew a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. The arrival of superstar Kevin Durant opened debate about the legitimacy of a “super-team,” and the bulk of the core of last year’s team returns. While their chances of winning 73 games in a season are rather low, the Warriors will be expected to head the West and win a championship. Can they finish the job, or will they falter under pressure yet again?