In part 2 of the CHEAP SEATS NBA preview, it’s time to move out West. The West has been dominant for what seems like forever, with nobody except for the Celtics being able to even dent their armor. With much of the focus being on a few upper tier teams on the East, can any team in the West besides the defending champion Lakers make any noise? One thing for sure is that the talent is spread out all over the Western Conference, and mostly every team can play with the next team.

Without further delay lets take a look at the West, followed by the predictions on who will be the NBA Champion and winners of each of the most prominent postseason awards.

Northwest Division

  1. Portland Trailblazers (3)
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
  3. Denver Nuggets (6)
  4. Utah Jazz (8)
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves (15)

A year after becoming the youngest scoring champ ever, Durant's expectations are to pickup some hardware while leading the Thunder deeper into the playoffs.

Summary: The talent is spread around in this division, with three teams that could legitimately take a shot at the title. The Blazers bring back a team that has been on the brink for several years now, but haven’t made it all the way. They have plenty of depth, especially in the frontcourt and Brandon Roy back healthy to seal the deal….the Thunder made big strides, improving by 27 games last year. Kevin Durant is far from the only star in the Oklahoma City skies, as Russell Westbrook is also an All-Star in waiting. They will continue to rise this year, but still need some more experience before the guaranteed takeover….there is a lot of uncertainty around the Nuggets, as they have no idea how long they will be able to hold Carmelo Anthony. With him, they can challenge for the division. Without they’ll will most likely lock up 4th place….the Jazz underwent several changes to their core, but if Al Jefferson holds onto his health, him and Deron Williams can push this club back into the postseason….there is a world of “potential” on the Timberwolves, but they have little to no experience and play very little defense. Another year in the Lottery is ahead.

All-Division Team// C: Al Jefferson-UTH, PF: LaMarcus Alridge-POR, SF: Kevin Durant-OKC, SG: Brandon Roy-POR, PG: Deron Williams-UTH

Pacific Division

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (1)
  2. Phoenix Suns (11)
  3. Los Angeles Clippers (12)
  4. Golden State Warriors (13)
  5. Sacramento Kings (14)

All Eyes on 24: Kobe leads his deepest Laker team yet into action in search for his second 3-peat.

Summary: There’s them and then everybody else. The Pacific is a division that has perhaps the clearest winner of any, with L.A. sitting firmly in place above the rest of a developing division that has several teams setting themselves up to compete again…once again. While you should never look ahead too far, the two-time defending champion Lakers are in the position to do just that, as they face no legit challenge in this division. While Kobe Bryant’s healthy will be an issue all year, the Lakers had perhaps the most effective offseason of any Western team, bringing in Matt Barnes and Steve Blake to give them one of the best benches in the game to compliment one of the best starting fives already intact….when Amar’e Stoudemire left for NY, the Suns immediately set out in retooling their approach. Instead of landing another big scoring forward, they instead got smaller and faster, which will suit Steve Nash just fine….it’s expected for the Clippers to be constantly rebuilding, but with Blake Griffin finally joining their ranks, they may finally have the right guy to start their assent, finally. Now if Baron Davis will just let him do it….the Warriors most radically changed their team, bringing over David Lee in a surprise acquisition to give their dynamic young Monta Ellis/Stephen Curry backcourt an All-Star level frontline performer….there’s a lot of work to be done for the Kings in year two of the Tyreke Evans era, but if big man first rounder DeMarcus Cousins stays hungry (just on the court though), they have added another key piece in what will continue to be a huge rebuilding effort.

All-Division Team// C: Chris Kaman-LAC, PF: Pau Gasol-LAL, SF: Jason Richardson-PHO, SG: Kobe Bryant-LAL, PG: Tyreke Evans-SAC

Southwest Division

  1. Dallas Mavericks (2)
  2. Houston Rockets (5)
  3. San Antonio Spurs (7)
  4. New Orleans Hornets (9)
  5. Memphis Grizzlies (10)

After only playing in 45 games '09-'10, will Paul be able to push the Hornets back into the playoff picture?

Summary: Simply the best division in basketball. There are no nights off with any of these teams, and predicting where they finish could be an exercise in dumbassness (it’s a word now). Despite picking up in age every year and being one of the most unreliable playoff teams in sports, the Mavericks are still among the deepest of all teams in the NBA. With some needed defensive additions under the rim (Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood), Dirk Nowitzki can stay on the outside and be a full-time sniper now….the Rockets had a great offseason across the board, in drafting (Patrick Patterson), free agency (resigned Louis Scola, added Brad Miller) and by simply letting time pass, which brought Yao Ming back to them, who’s presence and scoring touch could put them over the top in the Southwest. They are DEEP….the league’s retirement villa in San Antonio, who seem to have the same club for the last 30 years, has managed to stay strong still. The Spurs bring back their Duncan/Manu/Parker core once again, but have put the youth behind them in (finally) land big man Tiago Splitter in an NBA jersey. Once again, they’ll be in the mix all year….The Hornets get the biggest return boost of any club, with All-Universe PG Chris Paul back fully healthy. His presence alone makes them a threat again, and boosts the threat of the whole Hornets club….It really sucks for the Grizzlies to be in this division. They could be around the top of any other division in the conference, but still could pull the upset card on any team in this one as well. Locking up Rudy Gay as their franchise player was a great call, and they could legitimately end up in last place in their division and STILL make the playoffs this year as an 8 seed, seriously.

All-Division Team// C: Tim Duncan-SA, PF: Dirk Nowitzki-DAL, SF: Rudy Gay-MEM, SG: Kevin Martin-HOU, PG: Chris Paul-NO

************

Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami over Chicago

Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers over Portland Trailblazers

And finally…..the main event.

NBA FINALS: Miami Heat over Los Angeles Lakers (4-2)

This is hard to call, because if both of these teams make the Finals, it would be the most talented overall Finals matchup in many, many years, maybe since the Lakers/Celtics battles of the 80’s. But here are 3 points to why I see it this way.

  1. Consistency of Match up: The Lakers have done a great job of getting pieces to counteract the perimeter game of the Heat, but it’s a perfect storm type of scenario. If Ron Artest or Barnes gets into any type of foul trouble (which is more than just a possibility), it leaves the entire load on Kobe, and his offense will most likely be affected by the energy used to hold LeBron and/or Wade in check. And the Lakers really need his scoring to be at top gear in order to stick with the Heat attack.
  2. Maintenance of Health: Over the past few years, the Lakers have lost a critical piece of their attack to injury in both seasons: Andrew Bynum. The distinct advantage the Lakers have is their size, and they need all of it fully ready to go to beat the Heat over an entire series. Pau Gasol will need to focus on his matchup with Bosh on both ends of the court. Bynum is the X-Factor in exploiting the Heat’s weakness and if he’s not ready, they won’t have any clear-cut advantage. Also, Kobe has to be able keep it together and conserve energy to be at maximum ability by the time this matchup happens. His health has been a constant struggle over the past few years, but he has used his supreme talent to overcome it. However, this is a different case, he has never faced a matchup like this before and he will need every bit of his talent and health to lead the Lakers over the game’s other two premier players combined now.
  3. Cohesion: One thing the Lakers have over any other team in the game is cohesion and chemistry. They flat-out play well together, know their roles and stick to them. Currently the Heat is a brand new team that has none of this. However, similar to how the Celtics had gelled three years ago by the Playoffs, the Heat’s best days are ahead of them. By the time the Finals roll around they will have found their niche in the system and will be a team with two tremendous talents and a far above average third option that will be comfortable with each other. I feel that talent will win out over experience this time, and a passing of the torch will begin.

Awards

MVP: KEVIN DURANT; Runners up—LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant

Defensive Player of the Year: DWIGHT HOWARD; Runners up—Gerald Wallace, Thabo Sefolosha

Rookie of the Year: BLAKE GRIFFIN; Runners up—John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins

After a season ending knee injury last year, Griffin looks primed to take home top rookie honors still.

Sixth Man: COREY MAGGETTE; Runners up—JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Antawn Jamison

All-NBA First Team: C: DWIGHT HOWARD, F: KEVIN DURANT, LEBRON JAMES, G: KOBE BRYANT, DWYANE WADE

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