In the Southwest division’s nine year existence, the San Antonio Spurs have dominated the division – winning it six times. But as we’ve written here, the Spurs are getting up there in age and there are other teams that are ready to step up and take division title. It’s probably one of the most competitive divisions in all of sports, but that means that towards the end of the season it’s also the easiest to slip out playoff contention. During the 07-08 season, all four teams that made the playoffs had at least 50 wins, and during the 10-11 season, all five teams had winning percentages over .500. So in other words, it’s not a division that the current Phoenix Suns would do particularly well in. Here’s how everyone finished last year:
San Antonio Spurs (58-24)
Result: Won division, made playoffs, won conference, got front row seats to watch LeBron James celebrate his second NBA championship
Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)
Result: Made playoffs, got swept in the conference finals round, made all of us somehow find new and exciting ways to hate the Spurs even more
Houston Rockets (45-37)
Result: Lost 4-2 in first round to the Oklahoma City Thunder and appeared to put on a pretty presentable performance until you remember that the Thunder were playing without Russell Westbrook
Dallas Mavericks (41-41)
Result: Missed playoffs, other eleven players on roster learned plenty of German swear words
New Orleans Pelicans (27-55)
Result: Missed postseason, now named after awkwardly flying waterfowl with oddly shaped mouth
This season will likely be different. As Roger Waters would say, the defending division and conference champion Spurs are “Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death”. So that’s why I’m going to get bold here, and I’ll start with my 2013-2014 projected division winner. I’m finally ready to bail on the Spurs…but in the long run…am I?
Prediction: (59-23), Will make it to the conference finals and lose to the Spurs in 7
I am starting to love the Memphis Grizzlies as a team. Providing Zach Randolph doesn’t foul out of the league, they are easily one of the most interesting teams to watch if you’re into the coaching aspect of the game of basketball. For those of us who really like Memphis as a team, our last memory was of them getting smoked in the Conference Finals by the Spurs. Some people forget that Marc Gasol was the defensive player of the year, and that they finished with a winning percentage of .683 which was the highest in the franchise’s history. Also, it’s important to note that said winning percentages have increased each year over the last four seasons.
The Grizzlies as a pick to win this division isn’t really that crazy. I was baffled when they couldn’t compete in the Western Finals, but they were ragged by that point. When you play defense that well all year long, eventually something had to give and we saw it in the Spurs series. They just got gassed and ended up playing a team that was unexplainably revitalized.
They signed Mike Miller, for whatever that’s worth but his playing time is going to decrease as he’s in his thirteenth season. And they were 24th in assists last year and in the bottom five in scoring, so they’re going to have do a better job moving the ball around as well as putting points on the board. But they have one quality that trumps all of that other stuff – they keep it real. They’re in a small market, they don’t have any players who have ginormous egos and even larger shoe contracts, and that allows them to focus on just basketball. By no means will they run away with this division, but they should win it by playing solid basketball if they can focus on their problem areas.
San Antonio Spurs
Prediction: (54-28), Will make it to the NBA Finals and once again lose to the Miami Heat
This isn’t the flashy news that you want from this division. When we previewed the Spurs here on SBM last spring, we did a “perception versus reality” piece and in it we mentioned how the perception of the Spurs was that they were old and boring. The reality of course, was that they are old and boring. In other words, if there’s one thing you can blame the NBA’s poor ratings on – it’s the San Antonio Spurs.
They can’t bang the boards like they used to, which is the most obvious sign of their age. However they still score a lot, and that’s mainly due to Tony Parker who is still in the prime of his career. The real test for them this year will be if they are able to own Memphis the way they did in the Conference Finals. Although this would seem to be no reason for concern, you’d have to think that Memphis is gunning for them and will eventually overtake the Spurs as the best team in this division. You want another fun age statistic? Manu Ginobli is now 36 years old, and in Argentinian years by my calculation that makes him just a day shy of his 104th birthday.
But even after all that, I still think that they have about one good year left as a solid unit. And once again, I hope to God I’m wrong. There isn’t really a lot to write about here, which is strange because the Spurs are also coached by Gregg Popovich who is in my opinion the best coach in pro basketball. Please tell me you haven’t fallen asleep…
Prediction: (47-35), Will make the playoffs and be a non-factor if they even get there
The biggest news involving the Rockets this off season happened back on July 13th when they signed Dwight Howard. Which is a perfect example of the image problem the NBA has once football talk starts, because I had completely forgotten about this until I started this article. The NBA fined the Rockets $150,000 for publicly discussing Howard during the free-agency moratorium period, which is chump change compared to the $87.59 million he’ll make with the team over the next four years. That’s almost one hundred dollars per temper tantrum, a figure which is truly incredible and shows just how far the Player’s Association has come.
As for the rest of the Rockets, the Jeremy Lin experiment continues with high and unreachable expectations. Before last season, Kevin McHale said that Lin could average 28 points and 11 assists, an awfully bold prediction for a guy who’d previously never played a full season. He averaged 13 points per game and six assists, proving that Kevin McHale should probably go back to throwing games late in the season so he can get more balls in the draft lottery.
I smell this really weird level of discomfort coming off of the fact that Harden and Howard are going to be on the same team. There’s something about that I don’t like, and if I had to predict a clash of egos or a “meltdown” if you will it would be between those two for sure. The Rockets will likely get in but I don’t expect them to do any real damage unless it’s to each other.
Out of all the teams in the NBA, for some reason the Mavericks seem to get less interesting with every passing year. They have gotten progressively worse ever since the 2009-2010 season, when they finished 2nd in the conference. Last year, they had fallen to tenth overall and were very much at the bottom of the league when it came to relevancy – They were somewhere between the Phoenix Suns and being in the bathroom crying with a gun your mouth. It was ugly, and it certainly is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
Owner Mark Cuban said in a recent interview that if the Mavs stay healthy, they could “surprise some people”. Although that’s an awfully rapey way of putting it, I realized that he might be right. But then shortly thereafter I realized that if the entire team got kidnapped by Hezbollah, Cuban would probably say the same thing. It’s hard when you’ve been good for so long, and then you fall flat on your face because your franchise can’t keep up with the pace of the rest of the league. (If you don’t believe me, ask the Maloofs) So even if you chalk it up to simply not knowing any better, you still end up on the losing end of most things.
The big story here is that Dirk Nowitzki is returning from arthroscopic knee surgery, but the fact is – that’s their only big story. Shawn Marion isn’t getting any younger, and the rest of that team is shaky at best. Keep in mind, this is a team that still has Vince Carter on their roster like it’s 1999. And it’s a squad that finished 27th in the league in points allowed, which resulted in them finishing under .500. I see no reason that the Mavericks will make this huge postseason push. I have to think that this is probably the last chance Rick Carlisle is going to have with this franchise, and that might be a step in the right direction.
New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Hornets are now no more. The team has retained location in the Bayou, but they have a new name. They are now the Pelicans. The bird is known for its hunting of fish, and in general just looking damn uncomfortable. It will be interesting to see what they’ll come up with for a mascot for that team. Will they let the kids climb in the pouch and pick out airplane size bottles of bourbon for their parents? It would certainly be more helpful, but it isn’t going to translate into a great basketball team.
Of course I’m kidding – no one is going to show up at Pelicans games regardless of what they call the team. If a zebra’s got malaria, simply calling it a “stripey-horse” isn’t going to change the fact that every part of that animal that isn’t black is going to eventually turn yellow before it eventually dies.
One of the things you hear so much when you read preview pieces is the overused cliché that a team has to “change the culture” in order to become successful. In layman’s terms, that generally means that you suck. Sure they have Darius Miller, Tyreke Evans, and Anthony Davis – but how many teams in NBA history have you known to have rosters like that where none of the young guys all get along? I see no reason to sit here and psychoanalyze the Pelicans, because I’m just going to sound like Rain Man and I know that might bother Dubs because he collects Dustin Hoffman bobbleheads.
Predicted Division winner: Memphis Grizzlies
Additional Playoff participants: San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets
When we did our Blastcast on the NBA playoffs last year, I said that I was picking the Spurs to win it all, but I hoped to be wrong. As it turned out, I was wrong but not to the degree that I had secretly hoped. I really wished that someone was going to get injured and then they’d be early out. But it didn’t happen, so what are you going to do? Memphis will win the division, the Spurs will be close behind, and the Rockets will be the beneficiary of the NBA playoffs having too many teams. San Antonio will get farther than anybody (And here again, I hope that I’m wrong here) but then that’s it. No more deep playoff runs for them with that lineup. I don’t want to see it anymore, and neither should you.