NBA Western Conference 2011 Predictions
For the first time in a long time, the top 8 teams in the East will be better than the top 8 teams in the West given the offseason moves and the decline from perennial contenders (the Spurs in particular).
However, the West will be a great conference with the middle of the pack that we have to pay particular attention to given the parity. The Lakers are the defending champions and will be returning all of the pieces to that puzzle including the best coach of all time in Phil Jackson, who will be going for his fourth 3-peat. However who will be the Goliath’s David?
Regular Season Standings
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The two-time returning champs were the best in the league last year and remain the best in the league this year despite what happened in South Beach (the 8th, 9th, and 10th best players on the Lakers are better than the 4th best on the Heat). Not one player is leaving the squad (that includes Derek Fisher) and they improved the PG position with the acquisition of Steve Blake. No team in the west will be able to match up with the 3-man combo that Kobe, Gasol, and Artest provide along with great nights from Odom, D-Fish, and Bynum. This team will win 60 games this year.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
This will be the most improved team in the league and the performance they put up against the Lakers in the first round of the 2010 playoffs should have marked the painting on the wall for how well they will do this year. Durant is shaping up to be one of the most talented figures in the game. While he doesn’t receive the hype that Kobe or Lebron or D-Wade get, this kid deserves every bit of attention. He is a pure shooter with lots of length at 6’9”, averaging over 30 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game at only 21 years old. Ya think he’s bound to improve as time goes on? Durant can take over games and has eclipsed elite status as a superstar in this league. Not to mention, the Durant-Westbrook-Green combination is one of the best 3 man combos in the league given how well they complement each other. The Oklahoma City Thunder have depth and are a force to be reckoned with.
3. Dallas Mavericks
Mark Cuban is the best owner in sports and treats his players better than everyone (and it shows on the basketball court through their performance as it did with his other business ventures that made him rich). He actually has a passion to be involved within the intricacies of a ballclub and resembles a modern-day George Steinbrenner. With that being said, the shrewd owner of Broadcast.com media empire and 161st most powerful man on Earth out of Forbes’ 400 list, made the smartest decision in the world by preventing Dirk Nowitzki from pulling a Lebron during free agency. Dallas has a fan base that is obsessed with Dirk and for good reason. The man has led them to ten 50 win seasons and an NBA final trip in 2006. However, can they ever win the big one? Well, the Mavericks have the most depth in league. Their core consisting of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Jason Terry, Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler will prove to put them amongst the top of the teams in the NBA. But as for winning the championship…well, that may be a tall task.
4. Portland Trailblazers
Despite the front office shananigans last year, they did a heck of a job putting this young, athletic crew together to remain competitive for years to come. Brandon Roy is progressing to be one of the best pure shooters in the game and anytime you have a guy giving you 18 ppg and 8 rpg a game like LaMarcus Aldridge you’re going to win a lot of games, but that’s old news. These two will combine for 50 a game often. The X-Factor for Portland’s ability to climb the power rankings in the West will be that Greg Oden should be productive. Aren’t we all wondering what this stud who was drafted #1 from Ohio State can do on two healthy legs? Well, finally we’ll see the 7 footer grab a ton of rebounds this year and the physical presence he’ll provide down low on the defensive end will send blocks and bodies flying as well as fast-break-set-ups for Andre Miller ad B-Roy to catch the defense in an unprepared defensive set. With the combination of Greg Oden and Marcus Camby in the paint, an opposing player would be stupid to put up anything within 8 feet.
5. San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are on the decline and it began over the past 4 seasons when they slid from 63 to 58 to 56 to 54 to 50 wins. This was the team that won the NBA Championship every other year since Duncan came in and never saw a season below .600 since he joined forces with the General; but the Spurs have fallen quite a bit due to some injuries and the loss of key role players like the greatest defender of all time in Bruce Bowen. However, the Spurs will make a slight bit of a comeback this year with George Hill paving the way. Tony Parker has lost his footing in San Antonio simply because this kid can do it all and is progressing quite well. This is obviously a reason why you’re hearing rumors that Tony Parker, a beloved figure and an important reason for the Spurs’ successes, might be heading to New York since they believe they found a younger and more cost-efficient replacement. San Antonio is not enough to become a championship team yet, but given their experience, the best power forward of all time, quality play from Manu Ginobli (and Parker who didn’t leave yet), and the Brazilian lights out shooter in Tiago Splitter, they’ll find a way to make some noise and be a threat come playoff time.
6. Denver Nuggets
Denver, in all honestly, probably has the most talented and deep squad in the league. They have a top 5 player in Carmel Anthony, the most underrated and best point guard in the game in Chauncey Billups who is an emotional anchor, an incredible talent in J.R. Smith, and outstanding role players that go from the #4 position all the way down to the #12 spot. George Karl is a great coach as well, but the thing that makes this team so questionable is its' injuries and lack of desire to win. Selfish play, emotional outburts, and ball hogging are just some of their worst tendencies and they do it often. This talented team doesn't have the structure required to string together a 60 win ballclub despite their talent. Yet, George Karl will preach teamwork all year and will get this team a 6 spot in the playoffs. This does not go without saying, that their talent makes them inherently dangerous come playoff time.
7. Phoenix Suns
The same team that stunned the NBA and not only made the Western Conference finals, but nearly pushed for a Game 7, took a heavy blow this offseason when they felt that its second best player didn’t deserve a Max Contract given his injuries in the past. However, Steve Nash is still the best point guard in the league and he clearly inflated Stoudemire’s numbers with the pick and roll set that Nash’s no-look passes, flash, and accuracy set up with ease every time. The Suns replaced Stoudemire with a very underrated and underpaid Hakim Warrick. Childress, Frye, J-Rich, Dudley, and Turkoglu provide for a well formulated cast who will consistently drain 3 balls, however, the Suns have taken a step back with the loss of S.T.A.T. (and lost those 3 point openings when teams were forced to double team him) while other teams are improving.
8. Utah Jazz
Utah has a lot of questions concerning the offseason they had. Yes, they replaced some losses with Al Jefferson, but will it be enough? Salt Lake City residents will soon come to understand how valuable Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Wes Matthews was to this franchise. Deron Williams is one of the best in the game at his position, but how will he be able to lead a team that doesn’t have the same level of talent they had a year ago? Are Kirilenko, Millsap, and Okur enough to compete with the rest of this league? I have trouble seeing them winning above 50 games, but they’ll get into the playoffs. Hey, if you’re in you can win, right?…Well…
Last Team Out
With Ariza gone and the questions concerning Yao Ming’s foot surgery, Houston will not be the same team that we’ve seen. Yes, they have a great supporting cast, but this Western Conference is tough! Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Courtney Lee, and Brad Miller provide for a decent starting 5, but if Yao can’t come back in healthy form, this team will be pressed to make the playoffs. Will the experienced Rick Adelman and savvy Daryl Morey be able to guide this ship into this playoffs with difficult opponents and no 7’6” monster providing major minutes? This team will miss out by just 1 game to the Jazz.
Western Conference Playoffs
Los Angeles Lakers (#1) vs. Utah Jazz (#8)
Tough luck in the Salt Lake, but the Lakers will bounce the Jazz from the playoffs for the third straight year. Sorry Utah. First, Jordan, now Kobe. This won’t be a hotly contested match up and not one game will be a “nail biter”. Artest will manhandle Al Jefferson and make him a non-factor, Kobe will go off for 30 a night, DFish will lock up Deron Williams when it counts, and Gasol will get 4 straight double doubles in a 4 game sweep.
Oklahoma City Thunder (#2) vs. Pheonix Suns (#7)
This is where I normally would say experience would take over, but Hakim Warrick is not enough of a replacement of Amare to exploit the lack of size and strength of the Thunder. We know Durant, J-Rich, and Nash will get theirs, but Pheonix has lost a step without their big man and that will prove to be the difference in this matchup. Pheonix’s veterans cannot contain Green and Westbrook and Pheonix won’t be able to penetrate the paint for some easy buckets. They’re going to have to work too hard during this series to collect boards and their stamina won’t be able to match up with the youth and talented role players that the Thunder provide deep into the series. This series will go 7 games, but look for the Thunder to take this one at the Thunderdome to advance.
Dallas Mavericks (#3) vs. Denver Nuggets (#6)
The Nuggets will be dealing with injuries all year yet again, and the troubles will continue to hold them down from their full potential. Denver has the personnel to be one of the best teams in the league, but unless they figure a way to get this team all healthy at once and firing on all cylinders, they’ll always underperform. Despite that though, George Karl is a great coach and he will have this team ready and prepared to be dangerous. Carmelo will score 29 a game during the season, and Billups will continue to be the team’s emotional anchor, carrying the Nuggets on his back, so to speak. However, the lack of depth given the injuries will prove to be too much to overcome against the Mavericks. The Mavericks have an awesome cast and the veteran experience of 11 straight postseason experiences will prove to overwhelm the Nuggets when this game is brought back to Dallas for a Game 7. Carmelo will be screaming for New York and it will prove to come to Denver’s demise in 2011 and for the future once Melo’ leaves.
Portland Trailblazers (#4) vs. San Antonio Spurs (#5)
Portland is an excellent squad and BRoy will continue his dominance here as he did throughout the regular season, but experience does have a factor here. The Spurs have the biggest veteran core of any team in the league and they’ve been through this time and time again. They are just too experienced to get knocked out in the first round by an underdeveloped Portland team. Oden won’t have the same success in the paint against the Spurs that he’ll experience during the regular season and Duncan is just too much for Aldridge to hold down. The triple headed monster of Parker, Ginobli, and George Hill are just too much for BRoy to handle by his lonesome. The Spurs will regain some composure and show their true playoff form in this series knocking off Portland in 5 games and winning twice on the road.
Western Conference Semi-Finals
Los Angeles Lakers (#1) vs. San Antonio Spurs (#5)
This will be an epic battle. The Lakers are the two time defending champions and the Spurs are the best team of the past decade. The coaching is pretty much even between Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich given that both coaches know how to win, so let’s just look at the player match ups. Gasol is playing as good as anyone and I don’t suspect he’ll have too much trouble against Duncan to be a nonfactor. Gasol has turned into one of the best Big’s in the game and this should be a wash. With Bynum healthy to negate the dribble penetration of Parker and Ginobli, the Lakers have the slight edge inside. The Spurs will have a slight advantage at the perimeter, but Jackson’s no dummy though, and he’ll use Odom to exploit mismatches. The thing that I can’t see the Spurs getting past is Kobe though. The Lakers won’t be able to get a productive 20 points from Artest given the Spur’s talented defensive unit, but Kobe will not be faltered by Popovich’s plan. Kobe will need to be on fir to give the Lakers the edge, and without Bruce Bowen there to guard him, that won’t be a problem for the Black Mamba. Role players will prove to be big in this series, and the Lakers have taken steps forward to improve their bench while the Spurs have taken steps back since these last two met. The Lakers will pull out the series win in 5 closely battled games.
Oklahoma City Thunder(#2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (#3)
Oklahoma will show dominance , but experience will outweigh here the way it didn’t pan out for the Suns. The Mavericks have been here before; and Kidd and Dirk know how to get past young athleticism as they’ve proved over and over again throughout their prosperous careers. Given they’re both looking for their first championship, they’ll be hungry. Durant will still get his 25 points and Westbrook will show why he is one of the best Point Guards in the game, but strong performances from Marion, Nowitzki, and surprisingly, Jason Terry throughout this series will prove to overwhelm the Thunder. The veterans will know how to respond to a lights out show from Durant and this team will dig deep to knock off the Thunder in 6 games. The role players won’t have enough steam to last with the experience, passion, and drive that the Mavs will bring. This series could honestly go either way, but the Mavericks will steal a couple at the Thunderdome in the closing seconds from Terry’s performances to bring Dallas on top and make Cuban look like a genius. Sorry Thunder, but next year is your year when you become more experienced after being bounced out of the playoffs 2 years in a row and when the Lakers age a little and lose their star coach.
Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles Lakers (#1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (#3)
The Mavericks have made it back to the Western Conference Finals, but can they deliver? The Mavericks starting 5 is as tough as anyone and the depth on both squads will balance out. Jason Terry/Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher/Steve Blake seem to be a wash and the Dirk and Gasol match-up is even considering Dirk’s outside shooting ability and Gasol’s paint play, which should balance out. Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, and Shawn Marion will provide a lot of energy and some quality minutes, but Artest will provide hellish defense against any one of those 3 that decide to match up against him. Then there’s Kobe who no one on the Mavericks can put a body on. Kobe will singlehandedly take over this series. If it’s not his shooting, it will be the little things like the 14 boards we saw him grab in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in 2010. Although Odom will be a nonfactor in this series, there’s Bynum. A healthy Bynum makes all the difference in the world for these Lakers and the Mavs can’t possibly compete with Bynum’s 18 points, 12 boards a game, and defensive presence he’ll bring. The Lakers will have the edge in the paint, and the Kobe threat makes this team too tough to beat. The Lakers will win this series in 6 games, reaching the Finals in 4 straight years and looking for their second three-peat in the highly anticipated match-up against the Miami Heat.
Here are the 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Predictions: http://www.muscleprodigy.com/nba-eastern-conference-predictions-arcl-969.html
Check back to see who will win the ultimate match-up of the Western Conference Champions Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Eastern Conference Champions Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
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