NGSC Sports

NBA : The Northwest

In the NBA, injuries occur on a routine basis. Some impact a team a little while some change the course of a team’s entire season. That could very well be happening in this division, the Northwest Division, as reigning MVP Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder has suffered a “Jones fracture” in his foot and will be out indefinitely. Will it change the predictions and analysis, lets find out shall we.

 

1. Oklahoma City Thunder: With Durant out indefinitely, this now becomes a team that will be led by all-star point guard Russell Westbrook (MVP Candidate). While the debate reigns as to how good of a point guard Westbrook is, it is no secret he is an elite player. Talented, fiery and possesses a set of intangibles that are unmeasurable to traditional point guards. In the end however, traditional point guards make a team stronger, more complete teams. With Durant out, the primary focus will now be on Westbrook, so his skills as a point guard will truly be tested. Can Westbrook lead the team, set up his teammates like a returning Power Forward Serge Ibaka? Can Westbrook space the floor for his wing shooters like guards Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson? Can the bench of the Thunder continue to be their strength or will it be their weakness because of the loss of Durant and his 30+ points per game. If I had to compare Westbrook to another player, I would say former 76ers point guard Allen Iverson. A GREAT scorer without question, got to an NBA Finals but could not quite get over that hump to hold the NBA Title.

While the injury of Durant is a tough one, it came early enough so that when it is all said and done, the Thunder will keep a float in the top-tier of the Western Conference and easily make the playoffs. They will struggle, but they have not fallen that far off.

2. Portland Trail Blazers: We all remember that last second buzzer beater by guard Damian Lillard from last season’s playoffs. His most defining moment to date. Well this season Lillard (MVP Candidate) looks to take that next step into superstardom. He has a team around him that can give any other team in the West a run for their money & with another year under their belt, means lessons learned for this season. Power Forward Lamarcus Aldridge is regaining his all-star form, that prior to his injury, had him atop the list of best Power Forwards in the game. The Trail blazers are deep and I mean DEEP at the Center position, with Chris Kaman, Robin Lopez and Meyers Leonard and even add Joel Freeland who is a stretch center. Rebounding seems to be solid with all this meat in the middle, but can it help in the scoring department? That was their one deficiency last season for at times they were ran out of the gym by much more powerful offenses.

In the end, the Portland Trail Blazers are a team looking to improve AND will be better, making the playoffs in the lower top-tier to middle of the playoff seeds.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves: The “one thing” a franchise never wants to do is to “put a chip on the shoulder” of an athlete. That is what we have here in Minnesota. The “Kevin Love era” has ended and the “Andrew Wiggins era” has begun. Believed as the best prospect of this past season’s draft (one of the strongest in a long time), Wiggins looks to prove the Cavaliers wrong for letting him go so easy so they could get Love. With point guard Ricky Rubio at the controls and fellow young guards Glenn Robinson Jr. and Kevin Martin, youth will be on full display and the Target Center will have to be regulated by air traffic control. Forward Corey Brewer seems to be finding his game as is former Cavs Power Forward Anthony Bennett who continues to recover and produce. Add Thaddeus Young (acquired from the 76ers) as apart of the 3-team trade deal and you have a plethora of scorers. Can the team pout it all together to make a serious playoff run, time will tell.

In the end, the West is just too deep all around and the playoffs are just barely out of the reach of the Timberwolves. Could they make the playoffs, very possible but just am not seeing it this year.

4. Denver Nuggets: It was no secret that the Nuggets were lost without their leader Forward Kenneth Faried. Add the obvious mistakes by Center JaVale McGee who just cannot seem to stay off the camera for these head scratching mistakes and it had the Nuggets in a downward spiral to the lottery. On the bright side, Aaron Afflalo continues to develop his game and forwards Danilo Gallinari and J.J. Hickson look to fit nicely with the Nuggets. Add the point guards of a returning Ty Lawson and back up point guard “KryptoNate” Nate Robinson and the Nuggets can make some serious noise in the West as they did two years ago.

If healthy, the Nuggets clearly end with a much better record and make the playoffs in the middle-tier of the playoff bracket. AGAIN, if they can stay healthy.

5. Utah Jazz: Where do we start? The max-deal extension for Gordon Hayward? Need I say more. The front office decision making had former Jazz players shaking their heads. But the moves were made. Now it is time for the team to take the court for the season. Granted, this is a very young team led by experienced Forward-Center Derrick Favors and young gun, point guard Trey Burke. Add veteran sharpshooter Steve Novak and the team may just be at best spoilers. Not enough scoring and the front line does not match up well with other teams in their division, let alone in the NBA. But THAT is their style, all about mismatches.

In the end, defense and rebounding win games and the Utah Jazz are deficient in BOTH. I see the Jazz hitting the lottery yet again.

Be sure to check out the next issue on this 2014-2015 NBA Preview: The Southwest Division and reigning and defending champions, the San Antonio Spurs.

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