Southwest Division preview

Can you hear it? The sounds of fans cheering in the AT&T Center, the squeaking of sneakers across the basketball court and mariachi music playing throughout the arena right before tipoff.

That’s right the San Antonio Spurs are about to kick off the 2010-2011 NBA season.

There is so much to look forward to from the Spurs this season. The arrival of Tiago Splitter, the development of DeJuan Blair, a rested Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and much more.

But for as much as we will be following the Spurs throughout the season, there are the other teams which make up the Southwest Division.

So without further adieu here are the challengers to the division crown and how they stack up heading into the new season.

New Orleans Hornets:

During the offseason, Chris Paul made it very clear he would like to see the Hornets improve to challenge for the NBA crown and intimated he would like to move on should the organization not assemble a solid team. Now he has backed off that sentiment.

Their key additions were Dell Demps to take the reigns as General Manager, Monty Williams as the new head coach, Trevor Ariza, D.J. Mbenga, Marco Belinelli and rookie Quincy Pondexter. All will help get the Hornets back on track as Western Conference powers.

It goes without saying the Hornets need to have a healthy Paul, who suffered injuries last season, to remain in the thick of thing in the Western Conference. Also, with Williams being a product of the San Antonio Spurs’ system, expect the Hornets to focus on defense and placing Emeka Okafor at the foundation of their defense. Ariza will also be a nice player to run with Paul on the fast break.

David West may have dropped off statistically last season but remains a low-post threat. Marcus Thorton will continue to flourish as he might be inserted into the starting lineup.

Dallas Mavericks:

After a disappointing loss in the first round of the 2010 NBA playoffs against the Spurs, the Mavericks went back to the drawing board in the offseason.

Perhaps the biggest story for Dallas in the offseason was the resigning of Dirk Nowitzki who flirted with the idea of testing free agency.

Now the question is whether the Mavericks are title contenders despite their talented roster?

They added Dominique Jones and Tyson Chandler in the offseason to play along side Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion and up-and-coming guard Rodrigue Beaubois. But are any of these players enough to be the second option on the Mavericks?

The addition of Chandler will bolster their interior which also includes Brendan Haywood. This will present a problem for opposing teams’ offense. They will also have to monitor Chandler seeing how he played with Team USA during the summer.

Regardless, this team is talented enough to capture the division crown but the real test will be their performance in the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies:

Young, talented and improving. This Grizzlies team is on the verge of being the next “Oklahoma City Thunder” squad if they maintain their direction.

The biggest offseason move was to resign Rudy Gay though some feel Gay wasn’t a max-contract player.

Nevertheless, they added veteran Tony Allen, Greivis Vasquez, Acie Law, and Xavier Henry to an already young and talented squad made of OJ Mayo, Gay, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph. The foundation is there and this team might be ready for the next step.

What to watch for is simple — will Hasheem Thabeet finally live up to the hype as a top lottery pick and will Gay lead this team deep in the playoffs after getting that huge contract?

Houston Rockets

He’s back!

Yao Ming returns to the Rockets this season and sitting out all of last season with a foot injury and the subsequent surgery to correct it. Though his minutes will be limited.

While most of the attention is focused on the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks to battle for the division crown, this is a dangerous team for the two other Texas teams.

The team is deep and talented. Luis Scola (who had a phenomenal performance in the 2010 World Championship), Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier, Brad Miller, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee.

However, like a broken record, this team’s playoff chances depends on the health of Ming. The West has size (see the Los Angeles Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs) and Ming will have to shoulder the load in the paint.

Also, Brooks and Martin are an explosive offensive backcourt but they will have to improve on defense.

Southwest Division Preview

It feels just like yesterday when the 2006-2007 NBA season just begun but here we are again to size up the enemies of the Spurs in Southwest Division for the 2007-2008 NBA season. The division has gotten stronger and overall, the Southwest Division is by far the toughest division in the league. With teams such as the Dallas “Chokers” and other teams such as the improved Houston Rockets, the Spurs have their work cut out for them this upcoming season.

Dallas Mavericks
After an embarrassing, ego-crushing, humiliating, brutal loss to the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs last season, the “Chokers” come back pretty much in tact. Last season they dominated the league in the regular season but they were unable to get it done when it came time to separate the men from the boys. So much for a great regular season. Even after Dirk “Choke”witzki taking the NBA MVP award (which is now irrelevant), the Mavs’ window of opportunity for a shot at the title may be over. Their mentality has to be questioned after their debacle in the playoffs. With that being said, they still have Josh Howard, Devin Harris and Jason Terry. This team should not be looked over. In the off season they signed Eddie Jones but still will not be enough. They must improve their mental toughness. They will again win lots of games in the regular season and the media will go “ga-ga” over them and crown them the clear winners of the 2008 title, but we know the regular season doesn’t mean a thing once the playoffs begin. If they can get it done in the playoffs, they might be the one team to dethrone the San Antonio Spurs.
New Orleans Hornets
Last season this team was devastated by injuries. They had a nice off-season last year when they signed Bobby Jackson, Peja Stojakovic, and Tyson Chandler, but injuries set in and they lost Peja, Chris Paul, Bobby Jackson, David West and Chandler. All of them combined saw 126 games lost due to injuries. If they stay healthy, this team can improve on their 39 wins from last year. The Hornets added Melvin Ely, Morris Peterson and drafted Julian Wright. This is an up and coming team but are still a few seasons away from making any kind of waves in the West.
Memphis Grizzlies
Ah Memphis, such an underachieving team. A team with Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, Damon Stoudamire, Stromille Swift, and Rudy Gay, you’d think they win more than 22 games, but that’s all they totaled last year, finishing with the league’s worse record. During last season and during the offseason, we heard of Gasol being traded but that never happened. Instead, the Grizz brought in Darko Milicic aka “I will kill the refs and rape their daughters” (google Darko goes crazy in the Euro Tourney), and drafted Mike Conley. These two signings will add some nice additions to the center position and point guard position. For the Grizz, let’s hope Miller isn’t too tired from playing with Team USA this summer and with a healthy Gasol, the Grizz should be more competitive this season.
Houston Rockets
This team is just loaded with talent and what an offseason this club had. They added the best power forward from overseas, Luis Scola, by basically raping the Spurs and giving up disgruntled Spanoulis. Added Mike James, brought back Steve Francis, and drafted Aaron Brooks (who tore it up in the Summer League) to play along side of Yao Ming and T-Mac. Like always, T-Mac and Yao must stay healthy for all 82 games if the Rockets have any chance to succeed. Let’s not forget they have Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells as well. Also brought into the fold was Rick Adelman to coach this team. All the pieces are in place for the Rockets. It will take a while for this team to develop chemistry and if they do, the Mavs and the defending champs will have to worry about the Rockets.

About Michael A. De Leon

Michael founded Project Spurs in 2004. He started The Spurscast, the first Spurs podcast on the Internet, in 2005. Michael has been interviewed by the BBC, SportTalk, the Sports Reporters Radio Show, MemphisSportLive, OKC Sports Wrap and ESPN radio among others. He is a credentialed member of the media for the San Antonio Spurs and Austin Toros. He is also the founder of Project Spurs' sister sites, Toros Nation and Stars Hoops.