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Western Conference Arms Race

 

In this post I will fill you in on moves made by the rest of the West’s elite teams and give you my thoughts on how the Spurs will fare against them. Did the Spurs make the correct moves this off-season to keep pace with the rest of the West? Continue reading to find out.

San Antonio Spurs

As we’ve explored at length, this off-season has been a good one for the Spurs. The Spurs signed Antonio McDyess, traded for Richard Jefferson, and stole DeJuan Blair in the second round of the draft. The Spurs lost Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto, and Jacque Vaughn; all players that did not see much playing time last season. So you have a lot of additions without any notable losses. (Bruce would be notable except that we did not utilize him last season. So in terms of last season, losing Bruce was not critical.) Furthermore, last year we were essentially missing Manu Ginobili. So in this way, one could argue we added a healthy Manu Ginobili to the squad. The Spurs have a great roster and will be considered a contender this season. We will once again be in the national spotlight.

Houston Rockets

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The Rockets should struggle to make the playoffs this year. Yao Ming is reportedly out for the season and they lost Ron Artest to the Lakers. The Rockets picked up Trevor Ariza, which is probably a great long term move, but in the short term they will lack the fire power to compete with the West’s elite. The Rockets will also have Tracy McGrady at their disposal this season, but look for ‘Mr. Injury Prone’ to do more bad than good for Houston.

The Spurs should have no problem beating the Rockets. Without Yao or Dikembe under the basket, this team lacks a shot blocker that they have previously relied on heavily. Without an outstanding defense, the Rockets are in big trouble, as their offensive abilities are lacking.

Preseason Prediction: 4-0, Spurs. (Barring 13 points in 35 seconds by McGrady.)

Phoenix Suns

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The Suns seemed as if they were content to begin the rebuilding process. They replaced Shaq with Channing Frye and did not make any improvements to their team that missed the playoffs last season. But then they signed Steve Nash to a three year deal, so I have no idea what they are trying to do. Either rebuild or go for the championship. There is no in between. Hanging out in purgatory is a death sentence in the NBA. So the Suns’ goal is to barely make it into the playoffs and lose in the first round, thereby earning a poor draft pick so that they can do the same exact thing the following year? I don’t get it.

The Suns will have their hands full with our loaded roster. Nash, Stoudemire, Barbosa and Richardson will keep the Suns somewhat competitive, but they simply do not have the number of contributors that the Spurs do and those four will wear down over the course of a game/season.

Preseason Prediction: 2-1, Spurs.

Utah Jazz

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Utah is yet another perplexing team. I do not fully understand what they are attempting to accomplish. Do they seriously think that Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Paul Millsap will lead them to a championship? They threw most of their payroll in that direction and now do not have enough leftover to make a significant addition, which they sorely need to be competitive.

The Jazz do not match up well with the Spurs. The only big guy they have to throw at Tim Duncan is Memhet Okur. Ouch. And Deron Williams is too big and slow to defend Tony Parker. Furthermore, they lack a lockdown defender to guard Manu. Andrei Kirilenko used to be that guy, but he seems to have aged ten years in the past two seasons.

Preseason Prediction: 3-1, Spurs.

New Orleans Hornets

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Apparently the Hornets hate Byron Scott, which is a huge issue. How else do you explain the 121-63 drilling they took at home in Game 4 of the playoffs against Denver? That’s a 58 point shellacking! They recently traded Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor. Is that an improvement? I think they pretty much stayed the same as far as talent goes. Both players are decent contributors, but neither will make a huge impact, which the Hornets need if they want to get out of the first round next season.

The Hornets actually match up with the Spurs fairly well. We never have an answer for Chris Paul and David West’s offensive game always gives Tim Duncan trouble. He takes Tim away from the basket and puts him in difficult situations when Paul is in the lane because he has such a lethal shot. Luckily, we now have Antonio McDyess who will most likely end up with the David West responsibilities.

Preseason Prediction: 2-2. (The Hornets are pretty tough in New Orleans.)

Portland Trailblazers

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I am not sure what to make of Portland. For several years now, we have been told that they are really talented and will be a force in the near future. It’s said that they have not made a dent in the playoffs because they are too young. Well, according to my watch, the Blazers should be one of the elite teams in the league by now. The thing is, they’re not. Is Brandon Roy too quiet to be a leader? Is LaMarcus Aldridge too one-dimensional to be a dominant? Was Greg Oden coached by Ian Mahinmi? Is Steve Blake good? Would Rudy Fernandez be better as a starter? This team poses more questions than it does answers.

I think the Spurs will handle the Blazers. Greg Oden will miss 25+ games this season, and the remaining games he will spend in foul trouble. Brandon Roy will have trouble defensively as all of our players are offensive minded. (And they can no longer give him a breather on the defensive end by assigning him Bruce Bowen.) McDyess matches up with Aldridge nicely, and Tony will absolutely destroy Steve Blake. Like I said, this is a favorable match up for us.

Preseason Prediction: 2-1, Blazers. (The two away games are the tail ends of back-to-backs. We are not good at those.  If we meet in the playoffs I’m thinking sweep.)

Dallas Mavericks

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Now we enter the danger zone. I consider the Mavs, Nuggets, and Lakers to be our main competition in the West. Each of these teams is loaded and all three are now playoff tested.

Dallas is one of the few teams in the NBA that I feel improved their roster from last season. The Mavs lost Brandon Bass but added Drew Gooden and Shawn Marion. Offensively, Dallas is a beast featuring Dirk, Howard, Terry, Marion, and Kidd. However, I have several reasons why I think the Spurs will topple the Mavs.

First, Jason Kidd is currently 36 years old. We’ve all watched this guy struggle to stay in front of the quicker, younger guards in the league [read: Tony Parker.] Even Mark Cuban had to recognize this, right? Um, wrong. He decided to sign Jason Kidd until he hits 39. If Kidd is this slow now, how horrible will he be in three years? A young Devin Harris or a 36 to 39 year old Jason Kidd; Tony Parker should send Mark Cuban some flowers.

Second, did we not, as a collective NBA community, decide that Shawn Marion was the biggest beneficiary of D’Antoni’s 7 seconds or less system and a Steve Nash in his prime? It was the perfect storm of NBA bliss for Marion. Without Nash, Marion is simply mediocre. To prove my point, let me share a few stats with you. Marion teamed up with Nash in the ’05-’06 season. Marion with Nash averaged 18.8 ppg with 10.6 rpg while shooting 52.5% from the field and 33% from three point land. Wow, that guy is a franchise player! Hold up. Without Nash, since ’05, Marion has averaged 13.7 ppg and 9.2 rpg while shooting 49% from the field and 28% from distance. Mavs fans will argue that Jason Kidd will bring out the best in Marion just as Nash was able to. Incorrect. A 36 year old Jason Kidd is no where close to a two-time MVP Steve Nash in his prime.

My third reason for giving the Spurs the nod against the Mavs is probably my best. Let’s take a look at the players that will get the most minutes for this Mavs team: Dirk, Howard, Kidd, Marion, Terry, Dampier and Barea. Who on that team is going to play defense next year? Howard and Marion have the potential to be decent defenders, but there is no way Dallas can play good team defense with Dirk and Kidd on the floor. This team’s best lineup is a small ball unit featuring Dirk playing the center position; so he’s guarding Tim? This team will not be able to get a stop, let alone many stops that will be needed once the game slows down in the playoffs. This is a typical Dallas team; Regular Season All Stars, Post Season Disappointments.

When the game slows down in the playoffs, Dallas will not be able to get the stops and the Spurs will. It’s as simple as that.

Preseason Prediction: 3-1, Mavs. (Spurs take a playoff series in 6, at most.)

Denver Nuggets

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Denver did not make any moves of note. They signed Chris “Birdman” Andersen to a 5 year deal and lost Dahntay Jones. First, is it a good idea to give Birdman some extra spending money? I feel like Birdman has the potential to go Robert Downey Jr. on his circumstance. Second, losing Jones has been glossed over by most, but I think this is going to have a huge impact on Denver. Jones was their ‘Bruce Bowen.’ He was selfless, did all the intangibles, and took out the opposition’s best scorer. Now the Nugget’s defense is very vulnerable.

I personally never feared the Nuggets, even after they manhandled the Hornets. They have too many head cases to beat a healthy Spurs team, and now they lack a defender for Manu. Billups has done an amazing job of controlling the crazies, but Tony Parker should prove too quick for Billups.

Preseason Prediction 3-1, Spurs.

LA Lakers

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It pains me that I am going to have to give the Lakers credit here, but I have to. They are the defending champs and in my opinion lost very little from last season. I think Ariza was a better fit for the Lakers than Artest will be, and for this reason I think they got slightly worse, but just slightly.

If we end up playing the Lakers in the playoffs, expect a fantastic series. I think these two teams are fairly equal. Both teams are extremely deep, create match up problems for the other, and are imposing defensively. The Spurs will not be able to stop Kobe, but the Lakers have no answers for Tony or Manu. The Lakers will create mismatches because they are huge with Odom, Bynum and Gasol potentially playing at the same time, but how will those slow, tall players match up with the Spurs defensively?

I give the Lakers the regular season series because the Spurs typically save their best for the playoffs. I’m not going to say who I think will win a playoff series if they meet, but I will say I think we will be watching these two teams duke it out in the Western Conference Finals.

Preseason Predictions: 3-1, Lakers. (Joey Crawford will be responsible for at least one of the L’s.)

 

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