The NBA season is coming to the end of its first week and the Notebook continues some early previews. Last weekend we took a look at four top contenders in the East and the West. Today we’ll open up a six-pack and look at three teams from each conference…
San Antonio: The most prominent contender not playing on Christmas Day was the Spurs, winners of four championships in the past thirteen years and whose 61 wins were the best in the West during the regular season. They flamed out in the playoffs, falling in six games to 8th-seeded Memphis, and they limped down the stretch of the regular season as it was. Tim Duncan is still a good power forward, but he’s no longer the dominating force he once was. DeJuan Blair has to be a consistent force in the paint, and even then San Antonio needs to win games with its guard. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli remain a solid tandem, but Ginobli’s back has to hold up into the spring if the Spurs are going to go deep in a tough Western Conference bracket.
Memphis: After beating the Spurs and then giving Oklahoma City all they could handle in the second round, Memphis looks to be the West’s up-and-comer. With Mike Conley running the show at the point and a good and versatile front line of Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have a lot of the pieces in place. Randolph is a ferocious rebounder, Gasol a solid post presence, Gay a pretty good scorer. Conley just needs O.J. Mayo to become a consistent running mate at the two-guard slot and this team could become the NBA’s worst television nightmare and make it to the Finals.
Denver: After trading Carmelo Anthony for most of the Knicks’ roster, the Nuggets did a good job reconstructing themselves down the stretch. It’s not a perfect team by any stretch—they have no true center and when you look at the guards that play alongside and behind Ty Lawson, you have to wonder if Denver is deep or just teeming with a lot of mediocrity where no one can distinguish themselves. With Lawson, along with forwards Nene and Danilio Gallinari, they have enough to compete, but losing Melo did cost them the one big star a championship team in this league needs.
Orlando: All the talk has been about when—not if—Dwight Howard will be shipped off to Los Angeles, New Jersey or somewhere in between. For now we’ll look at the players the Magic actually have, and Howard, along with forward Hedo Turkoglu lead up a good rebounding team. As a Celtics fan, I liked Glen Davis and think Orlando made a nice deal in getting him in exchange for Brandon Bass. They could use a little more backcourt depth to help out Jameer Nelson. If Howard can be kept happy and in town, Orlando could be a solid 4-seed in the East again, but those in the know seem to be sure that Dwight’s on his way out.
Indiana: It’s nice being in the Eastern Conference, where a 37-45 record could grab you a playoff spot, as it did for the Pacers last year. A lot of observers are high on this team, but I don’t really see it. I don’t deny the talent of Darren Collison at the point and Roy Hibbert down low, but at most the only other part they have is power forward David West. I can see a playoff trip again, but another exit at the hands of one of the conference powers.
Philadelphia: Doug Collins made the 76ers interesting again, as they won half their games and made it into the postseason as the seventh seed. Jrue Holiday is very good at the point able to score, distribute and grab a few rebounds along the way, and you have to like the forward tandem of Andre Iguodolo, who can also move the ball very well, and Elton Brand, who hits the boards. Philly opens the season with five straight road games, the first two of which they split. Survive that and the schedule obviously turns in their favor. With Boston ailing early on and no one sure what to think of New York just yet, the Sixers could be a sleeper in the Atlantic Division.