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.
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.
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?
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.