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NBA preview: Western Conference outlook

  • October 29, 2012 - 11:22 PM

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. OKLAHOMA CITY

Don't just assume the Lakers own the West now that the Thunder traded away James Harden. Oklahoma City still has two guys for whom the Lakers have no answer.

2. L.A. LAKERS

On paper, the remade Lakers look unbeatable with four stars -- Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash AND Pau Gasol -- not just three. But there are questions, namely Dwight Howard's back and Steve Nash's age.

3. L.A. CLIPPERS

Blake Griffin is back from a summertime knee injury with Chris Paul on a team that went 40-26 last season and added veterans Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom.

4. SAN ANTONIO

The Spurs won 50 games -- including 20 in a row -- in a 66-game lockout season and still couldn't get past the Thunder come playoff time. Good luck with that now that the West is tougher than ever.

5. DENVER

In a conference dripping with superstars, the Nuggets chug along with a deep and talented team made all the more so by adding Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia. But can they win come spring without that star go-to guy?

6. MEMPHIS

The Grizzlies have one of the league's best frontcourts -- Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph -- but they must return to full health if the team that got knocked out by the Thunder last spring expect to make playoff noise again, two seasons after shocking the No. 1-seeded Spurs.

7. MINNESOTA

The Wolves need to survive November somewhere approaching .500 without Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love if they intend to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

8. UTAH

The Jazz added Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye to a young team that made the playoffs last spring. If youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter make the next step, so, too, will the Jazz.

9. DALLAS

Denied Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, the Mavs have pieced together O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand around Dirk Nowitzki and his surgically repaired knee that will sideline him to start the season.

10. HOUSTON

The Rockets acquired James Harden and will pay him like he's a foundational franchise player. But he soon might discover, playing alongside Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, that he's not in Oklahoma anymore.

11. GOLDEN STATE

Klay Thompson is a star in the making, but the Warriors need Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut to hold up physically if they're serious about the playoffs.

12. PORTLAND

LaMarcus Aldridge is a star, and Nicolas Batum, with that big new contract, needs to play like one, but a new coach (Terry Stotts) and too many new pieces to contend. Remember rookie point guard Damien Lillard's name, though.

13. NEW ORLEANS

The franchise's future is No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, even if that future is way out for a team filled with youth. Give 'em three or four years.

14. PHOENIX

Steve Nash is gone, but the Suns intend to keep the same dizzying pace of play with a pair of ex-Timberwolves -- Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson -- helping lead the way. The Suns were hoping to deal for Harden, too, but it remains to be seen who will emerge as their go-to scorer.

15. SACRAMENTO

Maybe it says something about a talented Kings team built around Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins that it hopes rookie Thomas Robinson adds professionalism to a group in need of it.

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