Pacific Division Preview*
Los Angeles Clippers
Over/Under 49 1/2 - UNDER
The Clippers added some nice players this off-season, even if they waited until September to name Gary Sacks their Vice President of Basketball Operations. They picked up Jamal Crawford, a gunner-for-hire; they brought Lamar Odom back to Los Angeles, 40 pounds heavier and with a psyche even more weighted down from his failed time in Dallas and the continued marriage to a Kardashian (even if it’s the Kardashian sister all other women love). They signed Grant Hill, for defense, primarily, and they got mainstays Blake Griffin and Chris Paul healthy. So why do I think they’ll go under?
Teams will be ready for this squad, and with Vinny Del Negro still the coach, you can be sure teams will take advantage of their remedial offensive sets. Yes, Chris Paul is still Chris Paul, the best PG in the game, but he’s more of a slow-it-down point with multiple knee injuries on his resume, and DeAndre Jordan and Blake want to get out and run. Slowing it down will mean less easy buckets.
It’s good they ditched Nick Young and his shoot-first at all costs play, but it’s bad news they lost Reggie Evans who got a lot of playing time at the end of games last season because of Jordan’s foul line troubles and Blake needing rest or battling fouls. Look for the Clippers to contend and make the playoffs, but I wouldn’t give them home-court in the first round, and they won’t have an epic comeback in game 1 to steal a series, either.
It might be back to the drawing board for the Clippers, especially if Chris Paul doesn’t re-sign this summer and bolts for somewhere else (New York? Crossing fingers)
Los Angeles Lakers
Over/Under 58 - UNDER
Ah yes, the summer of 2012 was kind to this Lakers squad. They picked up two more future hall-of-famers and set themselves up to contend—really contend, unlike the last two years—for the next decade. But picking up Dwight and Nash doesn’t alleviate all of their problems.
New teams like this need time to develop, and the Lakers were the only team to go without a win in the preseason. Preseason is stupid when trying to determine how teams will play once the real games start, but the Lakers still don’t really know how to use Dwight. They’re still stuck behind the Kobe Bryant superstar disease, to the detriment of Nash and Pau.
If Nash and Pau figure out a way to run the high screen & roll at least 8-10 times a game, the league had better hold their collective breath one of them gets injured. They could be that devastating. If the Lakers forget about getting the ball down low to Howard, and instead let him pick-up offensive rebounds, and lob dunks from Nash and Kobe, they’ll be borderline unstoppable on offense. That is, if Kobe doesn’t keep stopping the ball for his me-first heroics.
Metta W_____ P____ is in great condition and can defend the LeBron and Durant’s of the world, but Kobe isn’t a top-flight defender anymore, and if Dwight is out with foul trouble or an injury—as he continues to recover from back surgery—the Lakers will be easy to score on; Nash, specifically, is a defensive liability and will continue to be so until he retires and has his bust is created in Springfield.
The Lakers got a big break when Harden was sent to Houston, but I don’t see them getting by San Antonio AND Oklahoma City to set-up the Finals match-up against Miami a lot of people are predicting. They’ll underwhelm this year, but next year will probably be Kobe’s last, and I could see him going out with a title after this group takes a year to mesh. Also, maybe Mitch Kupchak wants to fire Mike Brown. With this line-up to trot out and start games, I’m pretty sure the Zen Master could be intrigued to come back and compare back injuries with Dwight.
Golden State Warriors
Over/Under 36 1/2 - UNDER
If this team gets healthy, and Andrew Bogut can play something like 70 games this season, they could contend for the playoffs, but by going under here, I’m guessing Bogut will continue to struggle to stay on the court even in the soothing air of Northern Cali.
Stephen Curry is also a question mark as he comes back from an ankle injury. Maybe it’s his lean physique, but Curry just seems more injury-prone possibly for the remainder of his career. Think about what happened to another lightening quick point guard with less than 190 pounds on his frame: Curry reminds me a lot of Shuan Livingston, who is still kicking around the league, but is nothing like the player he was when he came out of high school. Curry’s offensive exploits during his rookie year have been off-set by the injuries most of the last two seasons, so it remains to be seen whether he can get back to the level that saw them deal Monta to make way for more Curry.
Klay Thompson is a legit starter and then-some at the off-guard, and Jarret Jack is an above-average replacement if Curry runs into more injuries. Andris Biedrins is still recovering form confidence issues and can barely find the rim on free throws. David Lee is one of the best power forwards in the league…on the offensive end, and possibly the worst front court defender in the league. Bogut was supposed to off-set that, but we’ll see. He still has to get on the court.
Everything hinges on remaining healthy, and I just don’t see that happening. Hopefully, the awesome Bay area fans won’t have to deal with Tankapalooza Redux this season, but unless they stay healthy, they won’t sniff the playoffs.
Over/Under 32 1/2 - UNDER
The loss of their franchise
point guard to Los Angeles is really gonna hurt. Goran Dragic is one of the top 20 point guards in the league, but he’s no Steve Nash. Marcin Gortat and Dragic will run a few solid pick & rolls this season, but Gortat isn’t the best help defender, and Dragic hasn’t really been a starting point guard for a full NBA season yet; there will be growing pains.
Picking up Luis Scola, one of the wiliest front court players in the league, is huge, and especially since they claimed him off Houston’s waivers for something like 3 years $13.5 million. Michael Beasley is still Michael Beasley, but maybe Phoenix’s front office can corral his more pedestrian attitudes. They’ve got an OK little starting line-up here, but no prominent scorers and no player within the NBA’s top 20, or even top 30 overall. Not sure how far they’re gonna go without any honest-to-God superstars. Their defense will again be weak, and there’s no Nash to lead by example.
Don’t expect Phoenix to be contending for a playoff spot so late again this season. They’re rebuilding in a post-Nash era. One that promises to be a lot less exciting.
Over/Under 30 1/2 - OVER
Their lineup is a hodgepodge of problem childs that could break down and end up fighting each other for shots, both literally and figuratively. Isaiah Thomas made a name for himself last season, and won the point guard slot from Tyreke Evans, who is over playing the 3 now. I really like Thomas, but he deserves better than this squad of gunners. With Marcus Thornton shooting a ton from the 2 spot, you can be sure there will be fireworks with his back-up, Aaron Brooks. That’s 3 of 4 backcourt players with a history of playing me-first basketball, and there might be simply too few possessions to make them all happy. Also, John Salmons and his horrendus contract is backing up Evans at the 3, so that’s another guy that thinks he should shoot whenever he enters the game.
I like Jason Thompson at the 4, especially for highlights, and Thomas Robinson is a good back-up. Chuck Hayes is more than a solid back-up for Cousins, and he’s easily one of the best front court defenders in the league; too bad that will be almost-entirely wasted on this group, who never met a shot they didn’t like.
Plus, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins should be an all-star this season. He’s improved his first two seasons, and his Team USA experience probably poured even more fuel on the fire that actually more resembles a chip on his shoulder. There is a lot of talent on this team, and it’s gonna be up to Keith Smart to harness it all. I think there will be a fight in the locker-room, but Smart’s smarts and Cousins’s expanding offensive game, plus his ability to rebound, will get them to 31 wins, and possibly more. They’re still too offensive-minded to contend for a playoff spot, and all of this might fall apart when they’re moved over the summer.
It’s a tough time to be a Kings fan, but there is talent. Too bad they’re all gonna hate each other by March.
*All bets via Bovada