Monday, November 3, 2008

2008-2009 NBA Preview: Pacific Division

I know, I know, it's a week into the season, what are we doing still piddling around with previews? Listen, if you wanted it done fast, you'd be going to ESPN.com. But you want it done right, and with an appropriate level of sass, and so that's why you come to Joe & Joe Sports.

(Please note that we did not link to ESPN.com up there. We don't want you leaving our site and going to that hole.)

Anyways, preview time:

Golden State Warriors

If you watched a Golden State game, chances are you saw 200 points scored. They averaged 111 points per game last year, and allowed an average of nearly 109 per game. They let Baron Davis leave via free agency, and burgeoning star Monta Ellis had a run-in with a moped that will cost him 26 regular-season games. The Warriors acquired swingman Corey Maggette, but they'll be handing point guard duties to rookie DeMarcus Nelson. Even if captain Stephen Jackson (what?) is able to manage the ball-handling for this team, they figure to be in precarious shape without two of their most dynamic players from last year, at least for those first 26 games.

I could see, at the end of this year, looking back at the Warriors and saying, "That team just never got going. They had trouble making things happen offensively without Ellis, and even after he got back, they just seemed to never get in sync." That's what I could see myself saying, and that certainly doesn't suggest they'll be a playoff team.

Projected record: 37-45

Los Angeles Clippers

You know, there's something lovable about the Clippers, something endearing about a team that has been (and likely forever will be) the ugly stepchild of Los Angeles basketball. In a city with the Lakers and the Bruins, there's a lot of successful basketball to be found, which makes it surprising that the Clippers are able to stay financially feasible in the same city. It would seem that folks in this town just like basketball...which is a good reason to not worry about giving them another football team.

Anyways, onto the court. The Clippers made a deal to acquire Marcus Camby from the Nuggets for a pair of loafers (just kidding...the loafers would've been more expensive), which should help replace the defense of Elton Brand, who zipped off to the east coast. Brand's offense will be harder to replace, but the acquisition of Baron Davis, one of the most explosive point guards in basketball, certainly helps. He also gives this franchise a grit and toughness it's lacked since...since I started caring about the Clippers. Danny Manning, maybe?

They'll definitely be better than last year, when Brand was injured, but the playoffs are probably still a little much to ask out of the #3 hoops team in L.A.

Projected record: 40-42

Los Angeles Lakers

The defending Western Conference champions (which, really means absolutely nothing, right?) are looking even better this year. They return four starters: Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, and Vladimir Radmanovic, and the fifth starter from last year, Lamar Odom, becomes one of the NBA's better bench players with the return of Andrew Bynum, the young phenom who missed last year's playoff run due to injury.

I won't lie, I don't like the Lakers at all. I enjoyed seeing them come up short against a Celtics team that was simply superior in every regard last season. But there's no doubt that the Lakers are talented, and as long as Kobe Bryant remains the most prolific scorer in the NBA, they're going to be a force. This year, they'll be more than a force. They're the front-runners for the NBA title.

Projected record: 62-20

Phoenix Suns

I think the Phoenix Suns made a huge mistake. Trading Shawn Marion for Shaquille O'Neal was a stupid, stupid thing to do. O'Neal becomes even more of a liability in this fast-paced offense than he would be in a half-court offense, because he has trouble getting down the court in a timely fashion, and an even harder time doing it under control. When you're Shaq, you're already a target for fouls, and if you're racing upcourt to catch the offense, you're going to pick up bad fouls just trying to get into position. Shawn Marion was a perfect piece to this team; I don't care if he was voicing a displeasure, he was a stud, and the Suns will miss him this year as much as they did last year.

What's that? You're not so sure the Suns missed him last year? Well, we play numbers games here at Joe & Joe Sports, so here you go: the Suns were 35-14 (.714 winning percentage) before trading Shawn Marion, and 20-13 afterwards (.606). The Suns were a great team with Marion, and a good team without him. They caught the Spurs in the first round, the team that was basically the whole reason behind getting Shaq, and the Spurs bounced them in five games. Wow, nice move Steve Kerr.

The starting lineup outside of Shaq includes Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Raja Bell, and Matt Barnes. Is it the stacked lineup they had a few years ago, when they went to the conference finals against Dallas? No, not at all. But Nash and Stoudemire alone are worth 35 wins, and with Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw in the rotation, they should still sniff the playoffs. But expect another early exit.

Projected record: 45-37

Sacramento Kings

Sacramento was 38-44 last year, and showed some brief signs of being a decent basketball team. Then they traded Ron Artest for Donte Greene (a rookie who is exactly that), Bobby Jackson, and a first round pick in 2009, one that figures to be no higher than 20th, as the Rockets have a pretty stacked team this year. Artest may have been something of a trouble-maker, but they knew that when they traded Peja Stojakovic to get him from Indiana. He's been relatively quiet since going out west, and more importantly, he's been the defensive stalwart they expected him to be. Now they've got nobody.

Alright, they've got Kevin Martin, who seems to be a legitimate scorer, and Brad Miller, who's still got the tools that made him among the most efficient centers in the league five years ago. But that was five years ago, and there's literally no one else I'd want in my starting lineup on this team. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the worst team in the Western Conference. And so, here is your Pacific Division last place team. Number five, with a bullet.

Projected record: 19-63


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