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Rolling Thunder: Northwest Division Preview

Posted By Warren Shaw On Oct 26 2012 @ 9:02 am In NBA | 1 Comment

A very talented division that features the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder, the Northwest Division is one of the league’s best.

Its going to be a race for second place with OKC as the undisputed favorites.

The Timberwolves made the most personnel changes in the division while the Nuggets, Jazz, and Blazers all made minor upgrades and hope to build on chemistry with another year together.

The #NBAonPSB experts present their 5th preview with this look at the Northwest Division:

Warren Shaw Picks @Shawsports [1]

1.Oklahoma City Thunder

60-22

2. Denver Nuggets

50-32

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

41-41

4. Utah Jazz

 40-42

5. Portland Trail Blazers

36-46

The Thunder are a team that have done things the right way. Built from the ground up with draft picks and shrewd and affordable trades/signings. They reached the Finals last year on the strength of their talent and chemistry. With Durant and Westbrook leading the charge this team should make light work of the competition in the division even with James Harden being moved to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. I would have liked to have seen them give it another go with Harden but they got a good deal although the timing is curious. All the talk about the Lakers should fuel them as well as lighten the pressure they will feel as many have dubbed them 2nd best in the Conference especially now without their super-sub.

The Nuggets seemingly go under the radar as a contender due to their lack of a superstar type player. Ty Lawson is on the verge of stardom but isn’t quite a franchise player yet. Andre Iguodala was a sneaky acquisition that will help their perimeter defense and funnel passers bys to the sky scraping arms of JaVale McGee.  This team is solid top to bottom but are the Nuggets more than a high scoring 50 win team that can be scary in the playoffs? In a word…Yes.

Knuckle pushups may have ruined the Timberwolves chances at making the playoffs. With Kevin Love out 6-8 weeks with his boot camp style of training, the improved T-Wolves may dig to deep a hole to climb out of in his absence. The veteran additions of Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, and Chase Budinger will help but all are role players despite the big names Roy and AK-47 carry. Derrick Williams will need to play basketball worthy of his #2 overall selection and Ricky Rubio will need an expedited recovery while Love is out if they are to have a real chance this season.

The Jazz have an embarrassment of riches in their frontcourt with Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Minutes are going to be a problem amongst the group and Jefferson is in a contract year.  One of these guys may be moved. Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward make up a solid backcourt but nothing terribly intimidating. This team will be competitive and heavily reliant on their low post players but the ceiling isn’t much higher than a 3rd or 4th in the division.

 Portland has the potential Rookie of the Year in Damian Lillard. I watched him do work in Summer League and came away very impressed. He will have LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson to feed in the post and both guys are capable scorers. Nicolas Batum almost went to the T-Wolves and while I think he is a bit overrated, the Blazers see him as key piece to the future. Time will tell on Batum but this team is usually short on good luck when it comes to evaluating talent.

Sean Eckert Picks  @chefdj409 [2]

1.Oklahoma City Thunder

60-22

2. Denver Nuggets

51-31

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

42-40

4. Utah Jazz

 35-47

5. Portland Trail Blazers

33-49

This is a division much like the Southeast.  There is no question who will win it.  OKC is looking for a return trip to the finals and some redemption.  That all starts with winning their division and that should happen pretty early.  Kevin Durant will be one the early favorites to win the NBA MVP, and Russell Westbrook will look to take that next step as a point guard.  Even with the additions the Lakers have made, the Thunder are still the team to beat in the West.

The Nuggets are a model of consistency and good coaching.  I fully expect that to continue, while the Timberwolves are a team on the upswing, however, their star player, Kevin Love is injured for somewhere between 6-8 weeks.  Minnesota can be a playoff team, but they will have to find a way to win without Love, which won’t be easy.

The other two teams are going to have a rough go of it.  Neither the Jazz or the Blazers will be horrible, but I expect them both to struggle, especially on the road.

Cal Lee Picks @CLMECCA75 [3]

1.Oklahoma City Thunder

62-20

2. Denver Nuggets

50-32

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

42-40

4. Utah Jazz

 41-41

5. Portland Trail Blazers

31-51

The Thunder ‘s dynamic trio of Durant, Westbrook and Harden proved to be too much firepower for the Western Conference to overcome last season. Expect more of the same. The key will be their maturity and defense. Can Westbrook play within himself and still lead with or without the ball in hand? Will Durant elevate his teammates to play to another level now seeing the O’Brien Trophy within reach? After tasting the bitter sweetness of defeat in the NBA Finals, The NBA’s Tres Leches will answer those questions and look to put this division out of reach early.

Summer of 1858 was the beginning of the Mile High City’s settling of people in search of gold. Fast forward to 2012, and we could possibly see a rush of fortunate fandom in this year’s Denver Nuggets squad. Offensively this year’s group is stout, 1st in the NBA (104 ppg), but their defense was a landmine finishing second to last. The addition of Andre Iguodala will certainly bolster better perimeter D. Prior to the lockout shortened season, the Nuggets have finished with 50+ wins or better under George Karl 4 years straight (2007-2011). But even as talented as this team is, their play can be considered Fool’s Gold.

Just as I’m ready to put the Timberwolves in the playoff convo, All Star Power Forward, Kevin Love, goes down with a broken hand and is out 6-8 weeks.  It’s a serious blow to the team, but more importantly this hurts how many wins I would have exaggerated them getting this season. I was going for 65. This team is young, with a good blend of veteran savvy. They brought over some core guys with a winning mentality Roy, Stiemsma, Kirilenko, and Amundson. All will help stabilize this team while waiting for their “Love” to come back. The key will be their ability to take care of home court (13-20) and getting some wins within their division (4-9 last season).

Its amazing how one man can have such an infectious way in how an organization builds itself to become what it is. No I’m not speaking about Tyrone Corbin, but his Sensei Jerry Sloan. Last year they finished 36-30 and took the final spot to reach the playoffs which in many regards reflects the tenacity and disciplines this Jazz teams gives on a nightly basis. The only major move made is the addition of Mo Williams who will certainly bolster their backcourt which has been non-apparent in recent years.  But I’m waiting for Corbin to unleash their front court. Favors, Hayward, Milsap, Jefferson should be punching teams in the mouth. Their energy and solution at home is great (25-8) Top 5 in the NBA. But on the road, they have yet to figure out the complexity of that equation (11-22). Not sure how this improves under a full 82 schedule.

I wonder if Paul Allen still carries a sense of bitterness during the years his team made it to the Conference Finals or the times his franchise were referenced as the “Jail Blazers” . When you look at the roster that’s been put together and the salary these guys are making. The fact that Nicolas Batum is making $10 mil/yr baffles me while your star PF/C LaMarcus Aldridge, whose clearly more valuable is making $14mil and the other 11 guys on the team make as much as Batum and Aldridge collectively? This doesn’t look like a Blazers squad but more like a cheap 2-piece suit. If not for Aldridge and their 1st round pick Damian Lillard, this team could teeter on having the worst record in basketball. Maybe Allen should also pay the fans, as the Rose Garden faithful  maybe the best 6th man they’ll have in what will be a long excruciatingly painful season

Steven Jones Picks @Stevenjo5 [4]

1.Oklahoma City Thunder

58-24

2. Denver Nuggets

52-30

3. Utah Jazz

46-36

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

 43-39

5. Portland Trail Blazers

19-63

The Thunder acted quickly to avoid letting James Harden’s contract situation become a distraction, and their reward was a shooting guard who’s close to All-Star level. It may take Kevin Martin two months to blend in, but if Russell Westbrook embraces his increased playmaking responsibility, he’ll love setting up two deadly shooters, who in turn should open the middle for Westbrook’s acrobatics. Worries about Martin’s defense can wait.”.

No team will be more fun to watch than then the menacing defensive buzz saw Nuggets. JaVale McGee can have an enormous impact by proving his playoff series against the Lakers wasn’t a fluke.

The youth movement in Utah got some veteran support in the offseason with the arrivals of Mo Williams and Marvin Williams, both of whom bring useful specific skills to a team that already had an intriguing frontcourt rotation.

Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio were on the verge of creating something special before Rubio’s ACL injury knocked them for a loop. Now an improved but limited supporting group has to hold the fort while Love’s hand heals.

The Trail Blazers replaced the despised Raymond Felton with prized rookie Damian Lillard, who’ll have growing pains but should acquit himself well in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

Logan Williams Picks @LoganWill17 [5]

1.Oklahoma City Thunder

60-22

2.Utah Jazz

48-34

3. Denver Nuggets

46-36

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

 40-42

5. Portland Trail Blazers

19-63

The Thunder, how close they came to an NBA Championship last season but they were over matched against the star-studded Miami Heat. But the finals let-down will not keep them from treading the water on the rest of the Northwest division this season. The Thunder are arguably the most athletic and talented young team in the NBA and they will continue to demonstrate it throughout this season as they will compete for the top seed in the western conference.

I believe the loss of Kevin Love by the Timberwolves give the Utah Jazz the inside advantage for second place. The Jazz added Mo Williams as a veteran presence at the PG position and second year pro Alec Burks will be much improved and could help provide stability at the SG position, if given the opportunity.  Al Jefferson is going to improve on last year’s solid performance and could average over 21 ppg and 9.5 rebounds a game. Jefferson gives the Jazz a solid post defender and offensive presence in the paint and he will show dominance this year at times and show why the Jazz are a serious threat.

The Nuggets will continue to be a solid middle of the pack team in the Western Conference but they will end up as a low seed in the playoffs because they are a very exciting and high-scoring team but at times they seem to do a disappearing act.

The Timberwolves continue to mature and gain experience but the loss of Kevin Love for 6-8 weeks will prevent their hopes of making a playoff run and contending in the Western Conference. The T-Wolves will improve on last year’s win total but not significantly, considering the additional sixteen games. Bringing up the rear will be the Trailblazers who just don’t have anyone beside LaMarcus Aldridge that can really be a threat to be a consistent scorer in the NBA and that will keep the Blazers down in the basement of this division and the Western Conference. The Blazers have the looks of a team in rebuilding mode and will be down at the bottom for a few years to come.

Our final division preview will post this weekend featuring the Pacific division.  Please feel free to comment here whether you agree or disagree or by using #NBAonPSB on Twitter for any questions for our panel.

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