Monday, November 3, 2008

2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Southwest

1. Houston Rockets: With all due respect to Artest, this Rockets team will only go as far as T-Mac and Yao lead them. They are in toughest division in the league, but I think Houston will prevail this year. They have crazy depth, play superb defense and have their own version of the Big 3. Artest gives the Rockets toughness and a lock-down defender. But more importantly, he will allow the Rockets to rest McGrady and Yao more, which should keep them healthy come playoff time. The key will be maintaining team chemistry. This is the year that Houston finally makes it out of the first round. In fact, I like their chances in a 7-game series against ANY team. Scola and Landry give this team a potent duo at the PF position. Once Battier returns from injury, he gives the Houston a great glue player off of the bench. Brooks looks legit and may finally overtake Alston at the PG position. Barry and Head are good for a few clutch shots each. I have some concerns about their lack of a backup C, if Yao gets injured. Also will their bench players be content with erratic playing time?

2. New Orleans Hornets: While the addition of Posey will add some toughness and experiencing to their team, I'm still not completely sold on them. Peja has zero mobility and Chandler is an injury-risk. Peterson has been inconsistent at the SG position, and losing Pargo may hurt this team more than they think. Paul is a MVP candidate and West is an all-star, but I'm not sure if they have enough depth to compete in the West. Mike James is their backup PG, for example. He had trouble getting off of the bench for Houston last year. And who do they have to backup Chandler and West? Ely or Armstrong? Not exactly intimidating names. One injury to Paul and this team could fall out of the playoff race completley. Paul is the motor that runs this team. I think the Hornets overachieved last year. I'm not confident they can repeat their success this year. But maybe they can prove me wrong again. They surprised me last year already.

3. San Antonio Spurs: Its an odd-numbered year, so that means the Spurs have a good shot at winning the title. The injury to Manu could be a blessing in disguise. That means he'll be fully rested come playoff team. And hopefully this will give their role players a chance to shine. They need consistent efforts from Udoka, Finley, Mason, Bonner and Oberto to be competitive. There are too many games where their big 3 combine for like 70-80 points, but the team still loses. This team is prehistorically old so they will only have another couple years to be competitive. Will George Hill get minutes and a chance to overtake Vaughn in the depth chart? Vaughn is a non-factor on offense. Will we see Mahimi get any action on the team this year? He was a stud in the NBADL last year. I just can't see Bonner and Oberto logging heavy minutes again. Also can their big 3 stay healthy all year? That will be the key. Popovich is one of the best coaches in the league. So you should never underestimate this team.

4. Dallas Mavericks: I would not discount them complete, but I think they will be a lower playoff team. They have a former MVP winner in Dirk. And some nice complimentary stars in Kidd, Howard and Terry. But their roster doesn't scare anyone. They will have to improve on last year's effort just to make the playoffs. Diop gives them another big body to defend with. But Dampier/Diop might be one of the worst duos at C in the league. I'm not sure I like the idea of starting Wright.. He's athletic, bigger and a better defender than either Terry or Stackhouse, but he'll be very inconsistent on offense. Will Gerald Green get any burn this year? He could inject some much needed youth into this team. This team looks ancient compared to some of the other playoff teams. I think Brandon Bass could be huge off the bench for this team. Having Kidd for a full season will help, but I just don't see them being a contender anymore like in previous years. They might be forced to break this team up. Or make some major trade.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: A very young team that is going nowhere fast. Rudy Gay is their leader and best player. But they need production from their young players in order to be competitive. OJ Mayo will step into the second banana slot and will be very inconsistent. He has potential to score points in bunches, has a nice outside shot and will get steals. But will also give up the same number of points on the other end. Marc Gasol, Pau's brother, seems like a legit big man. Maybe the Lakers-Grizzlies trade was not so bad after all. Or maybe not. I'm not sure how the point guard situation will play out. Conley, Critteron or Lowry? Who will get the minutes there. And will they eventually trade one of their extra players? Will Arthur, Darko or Warrick start at PF? That position is up for grabs and I don't really like any of them very much. There's plenty of opportunity for players to step up and put up huge numbers. But I just don't seem them being remotely close to challenging for the last playoff spot.

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