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NBA Western Conference team-by-team preview

The NBA Western Conference prepares for their upcoming season. (photo/

The Oklahoma City Thunder were the class of the west last season, and look to continue their progression as a team after losing to the Grizzlies in the second-round of the playoffs last year. That was without Russell Westbrook, who will be ready from here on out. Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, and Steven Adams make the Thunder’s bench the most interesting in the NBA. Representing the west in the Finals were the San Antonio Spurs, as they showed experience won out in the end. The lineup remains the same with Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, and Tiago Splitter, with Manu Ginóbili coming off the bench for what seems like the 20th year in a row. Maybe the most exciting team in the league, the

Denver Nuggets were the surprise of the league last season. The playoff series between Denver and Golden State may have been the most exiting outside of the Finals. The team averaged the most points in the NBA last year, and it looks like they’re back at it in the preseason, averaging over 106 per game. Opening night gave us our first chance to see the Los Angeles Clippers as well, who some are saying could challenge the Thunder out west. The core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan are still around, and CP3 might get some rest this year with Darren Collison coming in. Two new starters you could see are veterans Jared Dudley and JJ Redick, who the Clippers acquired in a three-way trade with the Suns and Bucks.

With the first six men the same as their playoff run to the Western Conference Finals last season, the Memphis Grizzlies hope not to become complacent. That is also why management did not bring back Coach Lionel Hollins, one of the best in the business. A quiet MVP candidate in 2012-13, Marc Gasol is once again a top-three center in the NBA, and Zach Randolph is a double-double machine. A hot team, and one that everyone wants to hop on the bandwagon for is the Golden State Warriors, who will look to improve on their sixth-seed last season. Mark Jackson is the best young coach in the west, and they return four of their five starters, with the addition of Andre Iguodala at the small forward position. The other half of the battle for L.A. that we saw on opening night, the Los Angeles Lakers will be looking for help in a lot of places. Kobe can’t do everything, and will be coming off a tough achilles injury. Age will still be a question as they return three starters and add free-agent Nick Young to the starting lineup. Another hot, young team is the Houston Rockets, who made the playoffs as the eight-seed. They made a huge acquisition in Dwight Howard, who has led the league in defensive rebound s for six years in a row. A team that likes to get out and run has a ton of depth in the back court, but not a whole lot up front, as Howard and Omer Asik will likely be the two starters down low.

Getting their hearts broken in the last week of the season, the Utah Jazz look to rebound and make the playoffs in 2013-14. This team belongs to Trey Burke and Derrick Favors, both top-five picks in recent drafts. A lot of young kids will have to step up in Utah for them to have success. Everyone thought Howard would go to the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason, but the Mavs are comfortable where they are now, with signing many second-tier free agents this summer. New to the team are José Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, and Monta Ellis. Old to the team is Dirk Nowitzki, who looks to return to form after a down years last season. Look for guys like Shane Larkin, Jae Crowder, and Vince Carter to play some big minutes for Dallas. The Portland Trail Blazers started the season hot last year, but cooled off after about the first month, finishing 25 games under .500. New to the team is Robin Lopez, who can provide a presence down low, where the team’s weakness is. CJ McCollum and Mo Williams also provide depth in the backcourt, where they have a young PG in Damian Lillard who may be the best young point guard in the league.

A team who started out the season hot was the Minnesota Timberwolves, who cooled down after Ricky Rubio got hurt and eventually missed the playoffs altogether. They add Kevin Martin to solidify their shooting guard position, and keep their promising core in Kevin Love and Rubio. Shabazz Muhammad is an interesting rookie to watch and should get some serious minutes in Minnesota. The T-Wolves look to score down low more than any other team in the league with Love and Nikola Pekovic, and they should, when you shoot barely 30% from three-point range, worst in the NBA. With a lot of roster turnover, the Sacramento Kings look to make a splash in the west for the first time in recent memory. DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins got a max contract from the Kings who believe he can be one of the best centers in the league, despite his outbursts and constant complaints. Newcomers Greivis Vasquez, Ben McLemore, and Luc Mbah A Moute will become immediate starters as the Kings try to work things out with their rotation, one that includes shooter Jimmer Fredette and PG Isaiah Thomas.

Interesting team alert: the New Orleans Pelicans not only got a new name and mascot, but basically a whole new roster as well. Anthony Davis goes into his second season with a lot more help than in his rookie year. Many feel that Eric Gordon is one of the best two-guards in the NBA, and alongside him the Pelicans have added Jrue Holiday, a promising young PG and Tyreke Evans. The basketball watchability of this team is through the roof, and it is tough not to think they won’t make the playoffs. Rounding out the bottom of the west, probably for the second year in a row are the Phoenix Suns, who traded away many of their franchise centerpieces this offseason. They do have the most sets of twins on the team, with the Morris brothers, Markieff and Marcus. Eric Bledsoe is the new next for the Suns, and they aren’t giving him a ton of help. After luring him from the Clippers, they surrounded him with rookie Alex Len and Gerald Green. The best thing about the Suns this season may be their new uniforms.

Predictions (Top 8):

Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans

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