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How the NBA's Western Conference will be won

Ben Bolch, The Times' NBA columnist, predicts where the teams in the NBA's Western Conference will finish during the 2013-14 season.

October 28, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • San Antonio Spurs teammates Tim Duncan, left, and Manu Ginobili share a light-hearted moment on the bench during a preseason game on Oct. 13.
San Antonio Spurs teammates Tim Duncan, left, and Manu Ginobili share a… (Darren Abate / Associated…)

PLAYOFF-BOUND

1. San Antonio

2012-13 finish: 58-24.

Coming: Marco Belinelli, Jeff Pendergraph.

Going: Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair.

Before anyone asks the Spurs to appear en masse on the next episode of "Derek," Ricky Gervais' thoughtful look at retirement home living, let's assess a few benefits of being old and reliable: San Antonio has finished first-first-second in the West over the last three seasons. Plus, the Spurs aren't really all that old; Kawhi Leonard, the team's new No. 3 option, is barely out of his Nickelodeon Jr. stage.

2. Clippers

2012-13 finish: 56-26.

Coming: Coach Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens, Reggie Bullock.

Going: Coach Vinny Del Negro, Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill.

Chris Paul + Rivers = NBA Finals? It's certainly possible, but a few things have to happen for the league's onetime lottery-pick franchise to reach the elite level. First, Blake Griffin needs to become a late-game offensive option and DeAndre Jordan must morph into a defensive force. If the Clippers can also improve their three-point shooting, well, see you in June.

3. Oklahoma City

2012-13 finish: 60-22.

Coming: Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Ryan Gomes.

Going: Kevin Martin, DeAndre Liggins.

Hello, anyone there besides Kevin Durant for the next four to six weeks? A team already dealing with separation anxiety after the departure of Kevin Martin now must gird itself for a month or more without Russell Westbrook and his worrisome right knee. Even the spindly wonder known as Durantula may not be enough to keep the Thunder from taking an early-season tumble in the standings.

4. Golden State

2012-13 finish: 47-35.

Coming: Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, Jermaine O'Neal, Toney Douglas, Nemanja Nedovic.

Going: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, Charles Jenkins, Jeremy Tyler.

As consolation prizes go, you can do a lot worse than Iguodala. The Warriors couldn't entice Dwight Howard but landed a lockdown perimeter defender who can also help facilitate one of the league's most dynamic offenses. The flip side is that they must replace Jack and Landry, whose toughness and court savvy rival anyone's.

5. Houston

2012-13 finish: 45-37.

Coming: Dwight Howard, Omri Casspi, Marcus Camby, Ronnie Brewer, Reggie Williams.

Going: Carlos Delfino, Thomas Robinson, James Anderson.

As the Lakers learned last season, the euphoria of landing Howard can quickly go from "Yay!" to "Yowzers!" Howard hasn't developed a go-to move around the basket after nine NBA seasons, and it might take a NASA engineer to fix his misadventures at the free-throw line. At least he's lots of fun in the locker room before games.

6. Memphis

2012-13 finish: 56-26.

Coming: Coach Dave Joerger, Kosta Koufos, Mike Miller, Nick Calathes, Jamaal Franklin.

Going: Coach Lionel Hollins, Darrell Arthur, Tony Wroten, Austin Daye, Keyon Dooling.

Grit-and-grind is giving way to get-the-shot-off-ASAP under Joerger, an analytics adherent who noted that big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have been more effective scorers in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock while playing together. Mike Conley is fully capable of giving the offense some vroom.

7. Minnesota

2012-13 finish: 31-51.

Coming: Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Ronny Turiaf.

Going: Andrei Kirilenko, Luke Ridnour, Malcolm Lee, Mikael Gelabale.

Ricky Rubio's knee injury derailed the Timberwolves' playoff hopes in 2012. Last season, it was Kevin Love's hand. If the rest of the roster can get full-body protection from Lloyd's of London, then maybe the team will reach the postseason for the first time since 2004. Martin adds some needed consistent scoring and Brewer can be an occasional revelation off the bench.

8. Lakers

2012-13 finish: 45-37.

Coming: Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Marcus Landry, Elias Harris.

Going: Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris.

As best-case scenarios go, the Lakers' won't amount to much. If Kobe Bryant returns intact (and relatively early in the season), Pau Gasol and Kaman combine to give opponents 14 feet of hell, Nick Young plays a shred of defense and Steve Nash, 39, doesn't dissolve into dust before our eyes … the Lakers could make the playoffs!

EARLY OFF-SEASON

9. Denver

2012-13 finish: 57-25.

Coming: Coach Brian Shaw, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson, Randy Foye, Darrell Arthur.

Going: Coach George Karl, Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos, Corey Brewer.

Shaw may discover that head coaching jobs aren't always as fun as they seem from the safety of the No. 2 gig. He'll have to deal with JaVale McGee's unfulfilled potential and Danilo Gallinari's knee injury, which could keep the dynamic small forward out until December. Wait, why did Shaw want this job again?

10. Portland

2012-13 finish: 33-49.

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