Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Projections on NBA season's second half (uh, final third)

Jazz trade for sweet-shooting Kyle Korver!
Spurs bolster rotation by signing veteran guard Damon Stoudamire!
Warriors gear up by signing big man Chris Webber!
Lakers shake up West by trading for Grizzlies pivot Pau Gasol!
Suns will change pace after trading for 14-time All-Star Shaquille O'Neal!
Will the Mavericks be able to pull the Jason Kidd trade?

So many headlines have shaken out in the Western Conference in the past month. Several franchises in the powerful conference have made minor-to-monumental deals in an attempt to improve their team in a conference where nine teams are playing .615 ball or better.
Now, the question is, who will actually improve with all of these deals?
Will a team that made a minor move be able to move up the most? How about the Suns slowing down, despite Shaq's insistence that they won't have to? Will a team that stood firm while everybody else was shaking be able to take advantage of other teams who might take a little time trying to adjust with a new player?
Who knows. There are way too many questions to try and figure it all out. Honestly, let's just see what happens. It truly is anybody's guess.
With that said, here's my guess- uh, I mean, 'expert prediction' on who will win the West and how it will be won:
1) Phoenix Suns. Yes, Steve Nash may need to drive the Mustang a bit slower for the Diesel to keep up, but the track will still be plenty fast for the rest of the league.
2) San Antonio Spurs. As tempting as it is for me to want to believe that the Spurs franchise is slowing down, keep in mind that this is the defending champions of the league. Once Tony Parker returns from injury, the point guard position will be super-deep with Damon Stoudamire and Jacque Vaughn backing him up.
3) Los Angeles Lakers. The Pau trade has been working (the Lakers are 5-1 with him so far), and when Bynum returns from injury, it will work even better. What a great trade for the Los Angeles franchise, and bad for the rest of the NBA. (Memo to Memphis: thanks a lot for ruining the hopes of a lot of other teams in the Western Conference.)
4) Utah Jazz. While the Jazz may or may not be a couple of games behind a couple of other teams for this spot, they will get this seed by virtue of winning the Northwest Division. Winners of 12 of 13, 16 of 18 and 18 of 21, Utah is now rolling. Hopefully the All-Star break didn't cool them off too much.
5) New Orleans Hornets. I want to put the Hornets here just so I can dream of a first-round matchup involving Deron Williams' Jazz and Chris Paul's Hornets. For once, the NBA would have all eyes on a series involving Utah. Plus, I think the Hornets will hit a six-to-eight game slump, which will be enough to drop them a few spots in the uber-tight conference.
6) Dallas Mavericks. I'm not sure how much the Jason Kidd trade is going to help. They are getting him for defense, yet Devin Harris, the young point guard who they will give up in the trade, is a pretty decent defender himself. In the West, Kidd will find himself to be almost average as far as point guards go in a conference with Nash, Paul, Williams, himself, Davis, Iverson, and Parker. Yes, seven of the league's elite eight point guards (including Chauncey Billups) will now all be in the same conference. What the Mavs really need is a dominant big man, something they are no longer getting from Erick Dampier.
7) Denver Nuggets. While not a complete team, the Nuggets have enough with 'Melo and Iverson to get the club in the playoffs. Throw in Camby, Nene and Martin, and Denver has one of the league's better front lines. Rumor is that they might trade for bad boy Ron Artest. As a fan of the Nuggets' rival Utah, I say bring it on. Artest will not help their team in the slightest. Case in point: how has he helped Chicago or Sacramento? Plus, he plays the same position as Anthony.
8) Golden State Warriors. Though their style screams win-in-the-regular-season-and-then-get-shut-down-in-the-playoffs, the Warriors do have enough talent to at least make the postseason. 31-14 since Stephen Jackson returned from a seven-game suspension to open the season, the Warriors aren't that deep, but are electrifying when on the run with Davis, the much-improved Monta Ellis, Jackson, and Al Harrington. The bench? Um... Andris Biedrins, anyone? Oh, yeah. At least they got Webber. Maybe he will help in the slightest bit.

Just barely missing out:
Houston Rockets. T-Mac and Yao are proof that although two stars may be on the same team, it doesn't necessarily form a dynamic duo if they can't make each other better or play to the others strengths. Though they are hot right now, I don't think they have enough pieces on their roster to make a return trip.
Portland TrailBlazers. The Cinderella team is slipping. It should continue into March and April.

What's to say in the Eastern Conference? Boston and Detroit, who can play with any mighty Western Conference team. 'Nuff said.

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