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NBA PREVIEW: WESTERN CONFERENCE : EARLY OFF-SEASON

Playoff-bound

Ben Bolch picks the West (in predicted order of finish)

October 28, 2012|Ben Bolch

1. LAKERS

2011-12 finish: 41-25, No. 3 in the West.

Coming: Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon, Earl Clark.

Going: Andrew Bynum, Ramon Sessions, Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy, Josh McRoberts.

With Howard and Nash on board, it's no exaggeration to say four of the Lakers' five starters (sorry, Metta World Peace) could be All-Stars. The glitziest collection of talent to grace La-La Land since the Showtime Lakers also features a pair of legitimate bench scorers in Jamison and Meeks. Just a hunch, but there's no way this team is knocked out in the conference semifinals for a third consecutive season.

2. OKLAHOMA CITY

2011-12 finish: 47-19, No. 2.

Coming: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton, Perry Jones III, Hollis Thompson.

Going: James Harden, Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed, Royal Ivey.

Thunder fans didn't even get to say goodbye to Harden before he was unloaded in an unfortunate reflection of their team's economic realities. Martin may be a prolific scorer but doesn't have the same history with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that Harden did and will undoubtedly need an adjustment period. Oklahoma City is getting a known quantity back in reserve point guard Eric Maynor, who sat out most of last season with a knee injury.

3. SAN ANTONIO

2011-12 finish: 50-16, No. 1.

Coming: Nando de Colo.

Going: James Anderson, Derrick Byars.

Most teams would execute a massive overhaul after losing four straight playoff games. Not the Spurs, who added only a former second-round pick. De Colo, a French combo guard, could be another overseas sensation a la Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili . . . or an international man of misery marooned on an aging roster.

4. CLIPPERS

2011-12 finish: 40-26, No. 5.

Coming: Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins, Ronny Turiaf.

Going: Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Nick Young, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Ryan Gomes, Bobby Simmons.

The bench got better, but what about the starters? For the Clippers to continue their rapid ascent, Blake Griffin needs to consistently make mid-range jumpers and DeAndre Jordan must do more than dunk. A second unit that includes a scoring dynamo in Crawford and a rejuvenated Odom looks good enough to extend many leads provided by the starters.

5. DENVER

2011-12 finish: 38-28, No. 6.

Coming: Andre Iguodala, Anthony Randolph, Evan Fournier.

Going: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Rudy Fernandez, Chris Andersen.

When Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari are your biggest stars, the tendency among Nuggets fans might be to yawn. But Denver had the Lakers wide-eyed last season during a first-round playoff series it extended to seven games. Adding Iguodala gives Coach George Karl a reliable defender, and if goofball center JaVale McGee can trade his out-there moments for more out-of-this-world plays, the Nuggets will be contenders.

6. MEMPHIS

2011-12 finish: 41-25, No. 4.

Coming: Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, Tony Wroten.

Going: O.J. Mayo, Jeremy Pargo, Gilbert Arenas, Lester Hudson, Dante Cunningham.

The team that went from playoff darlings to disappointments in one year hopes to be back on the upswing. The Grizzlies' roster remains largely unchanged aside from the jettisoning of Mayo, who's now with the Dallas Mavericks. But one must wonder if Memphis' core has already maximized its potential. If nothing else, the departure of Mayo should lead to fewer dust-ups on the bench and on team flights.

7. UTAH

2011-12 finish: 36-30, No. 8.

Coming: Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Marvin Williams.

Going: Devin Harris, Josh Howard, C.J. Miles, Blake Ahearn.

These guys are like B-list actors suddenly finding themselves on Broadway. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward would be complementary players on many teams but are the heart of a group of overachievers that is hoping to again sneak into the playoffs. Utah did add a couple of nice pieces in Mo Williams, the new starting point guard, and Foye.

8. GOLDEN STATE

2011-12 finish: 23-43, No. 13.

Coming: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli.

Going: Dorell Wright, Nate Robinson, Dominic McGuire, Mickell Gladness.

The Warriors have a plan! This is going to be their year! The loud proclamations that typically radiate from Oakland this time of year may finally come true. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are sharpshooters extraordinaire and 7-footer Andrew Bogut should fortify a formidable front line. Barnes appears on track to start as a rookie, symbolic of a franchise where the future could be now.

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EARLY OFF-SEASON

9. DALLAS

2011-12 finish: 36-30, No. 7.

Coming: Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Dahntay Jones, Jared Cunningham.

Going: Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Lamar Odom, Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Yi Jianlian.

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