After months of waiting patiently, the NBA season is finally upon us.
This season will feature highly anticipated returns of stars that were injured late last season, amongst those returning are Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo and finally, Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant
This season will also feature new faces in new places, such as Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, who left after one season with the Lakers. The Brooklyn Nets will also be a team with new players, as they acquired small forward Paul Pierce and power forward Kevin Garnett from the Celtics on the day of the 2013 NBA Draft.
As the season approaches us, here are my predictions for the 2013-14 season in the Western Conference.
1. San Antonio Spurs- The defending Western Conference Champions seem to defy all NBA logic. Each year, experts predict a drop in wins or an early playoff exit, but it rarely happens. This team is the best coached team in the league and relies on the play of explosive point guard Tony Parker, emerging forward Kawhi Leonard and timeless power forward/center Tim Duncan. San Antonio has not missed the playoffs since the 1996-97 season, and I’m not willing to start betting against them now. (Projected record: 60-22)
2. Oklahoma City Thunder- The Thunder ran into bad luck during the playoffs last season, when dynamic point guard Russell Westbrook tore his meniscus in the first round against the Houston Rockets. That caused Oklahoma City to stumble out of the playoffs in the second round against the Memphis Grizzlies. Thunder forward Kevin Durant is ready to take full leadership of the team, as Westbrook will be out until at least Thanksgiving. Look for the Thunder to possibly make a trade during the season to give them a third scoring option behind Durant and Westbrook. (Projected record: 58-24)
3. Los Angeles Clippers- The Clippers made their living on three point shooting and flashy dunks last season. However, you need more than that to go far in the playoffs, a lesson Los Angeles found out the hard way in a first round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. L.A. retooled their bench by adding Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick. Their biggest addition was at the head coaching position, where former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers now sits. Rivers will institute a team play environment, as well as improve Los Angeles’s defense. (Projected record: 57-25)
4. Golden State Warriors- The Warriors are a team that will not lack offensive firepower for the next several years. Led by their point guard Stephen Curry, Golden State will be a constant threat to score over 110 points a game. Curry, who broke Ray Allen’s record for three pointers in a season, will look to stay healthy and improve on his defense as he continues to climb in the NBA player rankings. With the addition of lockdown defender, shooting guard Andre Iguodala, look for Golden State to make a deep run in the playoffs. (Projected record: 56-26)
5. Houston Rockets- The Rockets are loaded with offense. From James Harden to Chandler Parsons to Francisco Garcia, Houston will always be a threat to score. Harden is now a bona-fide star in the NBA and will have to lead Houston on both offense and defense. The offseason addition of Dwight Howard will help stabilize the defense, but look for more experienced offensive teams to exploit Houston’s holes. (Projected record: 53-29)
6. Memphis Grizzlies- The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the best teams in the league in terms of team play, and fan base. They have no one star in particular that they rely on, but they have solid players such as point guard Mike Conley, power forward Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol. They are able to play with any and everyone in the NBA and will make you earn your points with their stingy defense. Look for Memphis to once again be in the thick of things in the Western Conference. (Projected record: 48-34)
7. Minnesota Timberwolves- The Timberwolves are the biggest wild card team in the league. When healthy, they have a top-tier point guard in Ricky Rubio, a talented center in Nikola Pekovic, and the best rebounder in the league in power forward Kevin Love. However, injuries seem to derail this team every year. With Rubio recovered from a torn ACL, and Love back at full strength after breaking his hand twice, Minnesota looks primed for their first playoff appearance since Kevin Garnett was on the team. (Projected record: 43-39
8. Los Angeles Lakers– Last season was a failed experiment by the Lakers as they acquired all-star center Dwight Howard and future hall of famer Steve Nash before the season started. Nash ended up missing over 25 games with various injuries, Howard struggled to be consistent while battling back issues, and Los Angeles superstar Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles right before the postseason started. As for this season, Bryant is still recovering, having not participated in basketball activities. Howard left and singed with Houston as a free agent, while Nash is battling injuries again. Look for the Lakers to struggle to find an identity all season and barely make it into the playoffs. (Projected record: 42-40)
(Outside looking in- Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks)
Western Conference First Round
Spurs over Lakers (4-1)
Thunder over Timberwolves (4-2)
Grizzlies over Clippers (4-3)
Warriors over Rockets (4-3)
Western Conference Semifinals
Warriors over Spurs (4-3)
Thunder over Grizzlies (4-2)
Western Conference Finals
Thunder over Warriors (4-2)
Pacers over Thunder (4-2)
The Indiana Pacers will storm through a tough Eastern Conference behind their strong team defense and defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games to claim their first ever NBA Championship. Led by versatile two-way forward Paul George, Indiana will play solid team basketball and will not only win it all this year, but also contend for years to come.