NBA Preview: The West is Still the Best

I don’t know about you, but every year the NBA season kind of sneaks up on me. It feels like just last month I was watching league MVP Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors celebrate their franchise’s first championship in 40 years, taking down a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers team in spite of a performance for the ages from one of the league’s best player, LeBron James. Here we are though at the end of October and the new NBA season is officially upon us, bringing its usual intrigue and storylines.

Last season, the Warriors were the best team in the league from start to finish. Not only were they top in the league in offensive efficiency for the majority of the regular season but they also finished top in defensive efficiency as well. This year they bring back virtually their entire team and are the prohibitive favorites to win the Western Conference yet again. The road for Golden State to get back to the Finals will not be easy though, as the West is absolutely loaded with talent.

After coming up short last season against Golden State in the Western Conference Finals, The Houston Rockets, led by James Harden and Dwight Howard, are poised to make another run this year and will be looking to take that next step.

The LA Clippers are another team with the talent and the coaching to get past the Warriors. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan make up one of the best trios in the league and the addition of Paul Piece should pay dividends in the playoffs.

Kevin Durant missed the majority of last season with foot issues but he’s back this year and his presence, along with last year’s scoring champ Russell Westbrook, should bring the OKC Thunder back to the playoffs with a championship in their sites.

And let’s not forget the San Antonio Spurs, who managed to bring in the top free agent on the market this year in LaMarcus Aldridge, adding to an already championship caliber team. Another ring for the Spurs will be number six for Tim Duncan, tying him with some guy named Michael Jordan.

Any one of those teams has a legitimate shot at dethroning the defending champs and getting some hardware of their own. A repeat for the Warriors will not be easy.

Is there a team in the East this year that can pose any kind of a threat to the Cavs? Not likely. The Cavs are deep, talented, and appear to be head and shoulders above every team in the Eastern Conference. However, there are some injury concerns they’ll be dealing with at the start of the season. Kyrie Irving is still dealing with the fractured kneecap he suffered in the Finals last year and it’s uncertain when he’ll return. Iman Shumpert will also miss time to start the season with a ruptured wrist tendon. Even LeBron had to take an inflammatory injection in his back last week and he hasn’t practiced in full since. The good news is that Kevin Love just made his preseason debut and looks ready for the start of the regular season.

All of that being said, the Cavs are in championship-or-bust mode, and as long as everyone is healthy and ready for the playoffs that’s all that matters. I expect the Cavs to pull their best San Antonio Spurs impression this year and rest their players as much as possible during the regular season, which could open the door for another team (Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, or Washington) to sneak away with the number one seed in the East. However, if the Cavs are at full strength come playoff time that number one overall seed will probably be inconsequential.

LeBron returned to Cleveland last year with only one thing in mind: to bring the city of Cleveland its first professional championship since the Browns won the NFL Championship way back in 1964. Doing so will cement his legacy as one of the five greatest players to grace the NBA.

Need some other storylines to follow throughout the year? How about Kobe Bryant and the possibility that this could be the Black Mamba’s last year in the league? How about the emergence of Anthony Davis and the possibility that at only 22 years old we might be witnessing the rise of the next generational talent? And as much as Kevin Durant would like us to stop talking about it, his impending free agency after this season is going to be without a doubt the hottest off-court topic. Will it be a distraction for the Thunder?

I’m definitely looking forward to watching all of these storylines and more play out as the new NBA season kicks off this week.

The editor may be reached at sports@su-spectator.com

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