The Southwest division was the toughest division last year and will probably remain that way this season. For the first time since the league switched to a five-team division, all five teams from one division qualified for the playoffs – with all of them winning at least 45 games. Just once previous has an entire division got through to the playoffs: the Central Division in season 2005-06. However, only two of those five teams had a record above 0.500.
Some argue that last year’s Southwest Division might have been the best division in NBA history. None of the teams were able to reach the NBA Finals, however, but a couple of championship contenders will come out of the Southwest this year.
The New Orleans Pelicans qualified for the postseason on the last day of the regular season, but got swept in the first round by the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors. All pressure lies on budding superstar Anthony Davis to take his team back to the playoffs this year, and with a similar roster and an extra year of experience, no one doubts the Pelicans are here to stay.
They’ve changed their head coach, firing Monty Williams and bringing in Alvin Gentry. Gentry will have his team play at a much faster tempo, with former ROTY Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday pushing the ball up. Davis has only played three years in the league but he can already be considered a MVP favorite this year if he can lift his team up a little more. Nothing but positives for the Pelicans, but it will be a bit early to expect them deep in the playoffs this year.
After losing in the first round last year, the Dallas Mavericks put everything on the offseason to land a big-time free agent. They almost got Texan-born DeAndre Jordan, but after verbally agreeing with Dallas, Jordan had a change of heart and signed with the LA Clippers, leaving the Mavericks without their big fish. It didn’t keep them from being active during the summer though.
Only future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons are left from their 8-man rotation of last year. Gone are Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis and big man Tyson Chandler, while bringing in Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews and Zaza Pachulia. Coach Carlisle will have plenty of work with this revamped roster. The Mavericks will have plenty of cap room next summer though, when a number of superstars will become free agents. Dallas will still be a dangerous team this season, but will have a hard time making it to the playoffs.
In Memphis, the Grizzlies will stay true to their grid-and-grind style in the hope they will finally break the deadlock and make it to the NBA Finals this year. Their entire roster stayed pretty much the same as last year, after winning 55 games and making it to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. They didn’t really address the issues they had last year, when a lack of threats from deep killed them in the CF against the Warriors.
In today’s NBA, where the three-point shot has become increasingly more important, missing out on some good shooters during free agency may be held against them next spring. The Grizzlies will remain a tough to beat team this year, and it is unthinkable they won’t make the playoffs, but their roster just feels a little thin on talent to take it all the way.
The defending champions San Antonio Spurs lost in the first round to the Clippers last year in what might have been one of the best first round seven-game series the league has ever witnessed. There were talks that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and head coach Greg Popovich would call it quits after last season, but they eventually all re-signed.
Next, they won the sweepstakes for more sought-after free agent and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. They also signed David West to bring some depth to the bench and will count on Patty Mills to take over when Tony Parker needs a breather. With the addition of Aldridge, Spurs are not only relevant again, but huge favorites to win the championship this year. Expect the Spurs to win at least 55 games again this season.
The Houston Rockets won the division last year and made it all the way to the conference Finals, where they eventually lost to the Warriors. The Rockets have everything that it takes to become a championship contending team, and they fortified their aspirations by signing borderline All-Star Ty Lawson to run the point off the bench.
With Lawson, the run-and gun Rockets will become even faster when Lawson comes off the bench, making Houston probably an even more efficient offensive team. Together with James Harden eager to show why he is the real MVP of the league, a fully healthy Dwight Howard and a returning ball-stopper in Patrick Beverley, the Rockets will not be overlooked this season.