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CHARGED NBA Preview: Southwest Division

by Photo of Moke Hamilton

Despite the slow start, Moke Hamilton still likes the Mavericks in the Southwest.

CHARGED NBA Preview: Southwest Division

One thing is for sure: the NBA’s Southwest division has become one of the toughest in the league. Gone are the days when we all knew that the Spurs and the Mavericks would battle for the right to be named division champion, and inevitably clash in the playoffs at some point.  Four of the five teams in this division will likely compete for playoff spots all season long, and perhaps the division crown if things shake out right.

Welcome to Part 4 of CHARGED.fm’s 2011-2012 NBA preview. At this point, we have seen most NBA teams play at least three or four times. But I promise, nothing I’ve seen this early in the season has affected my projections. The season is long—even though it’s not. Last season, the Spurs (the division champs) and Mavericks won 61 and 57 games, respectively.

But, of course, it's a year later. We're in a 66-game shortened season, and the upstart Memphis Grizzlies might have a thing or two to say about the Texas Triangle dominating the Southwest division for another year.

The million-dollar question is whether or not the Spurs and Mavericks will finish in the top two of the division this year.

New Orleans Hornets 2012 Division Projection: 5th

The Hornets are a better team than most would think on paper. Obviously, they lost Chris Paul and there’s simply no way that you are going to be able to adequately replace a top 5 player in the NBA. In Part 1 of CHARGED.fm’s NBA preview, I predicted that the Clippers would win the Pacific division. Without Paul, the Hornets will struggle mightily. Jarrett Jack is a better-than-advertised option at the point guard position, and the guy I expect to rise to prominence this year in the Big Easy is Carl Landry. I think Landry has a legitimate shot at winning the Most Improved Player Award. That being said, the overall dearth of talent on the New Orleans Hornets will be too much for them to compete in the dogfight that is the Southwest Division. It’s not ridiculous to expect them to end up around .500 at the end of the season, but they’re not sniffing the postseason post-CP3.

Houston Rockets 2012 Division Projection: 4th

The Houston Rockets, in some ways, are the Atlanta Hawks of the West. Well, that is, minus the ineptitude in the front office, overpaid “superstars,” and lack of any hope of contending in the conference. Okay, so maybe they’re not the Atlanta Hawks, but what the Rockets are is a team full of second tier talent. Kyle Lowry has come into the season playing like a perennial all-star, and Luis Scola is as solid as ever. The X-Factor on this team is and always will be Kevin Martin. Martin is one of the most prolific shooters in the NBA. His major issue has been staying on the court. An even more major issue has been actually putting forth some effort on defense when he's on the court. If both occur, the Rockets will have an opportunity to make the postseason. However, unfortunately for Rockets fans, this is not the season in which guys who have traditionally been plagued by injuries find the secret to staying healthy. The other player to watch for the Rockets is Jordan Hill. The third-year man will get the opportunity to prove he belongs in the NBA and if he fulfills some of the potential that made him a lottery pick back in 2009, things could be looking up in H-Town.

Memphis Grizzlies 2012 Division Projection: 3rd

Last season’s Cinderella won’t be world-beaters this year, in my opinion. The biggest concern, for me, is what the Grizzlies do with Rudy Gay and how he will affect their team chemistry. Ultimately, the Grizzlies found their groove and were able to upset the Spurs in last year’s NBA Playoffs behind a ground and pound attack and tough, gritty defense. Inserting Rudy Gay into the thick of things takes the ball out of Mike Conley’s hands, buries O.J. Mayo deeper on the bench, and gives Zach Randolph less touches and less shots. All in all, I expect the loss of Grievis Vasquez to hurt them a bit. The point guard depth on this team is a major concern since neither of their rookie point guards—Josh Selby and Jeremy Pargo—can be counted on if Mike Conley is unable to stay on the court. That being said, I expect Lionel Hollins to get the most out of his club and ultimately figure out how to keep the identity of the team somewhat consistent with the team that was able to shock and awe in last year’s playoffs. It’ll take 20 games for the Grizzlies to start rolling, and I expect that to make a difference in the standings when it’s all said and done.

San Antonio Spurs 2012 Division Projection: 2nd  

Most have written the Spurs off and the decision to do so is totally understandable. The main reason why I expect the Spurs to fare well this season is their coach. Gregg Popovich is a taskmaster that will prepare his team well and not accept anything less than maximum effort. The Spurs might lose some games to younger, faster teams, but for the most part, they will beat the teams that they’re supposed to beat. Moreover, their cast of supporting players are very capable of winning them a few games. Ultimately, if their triad of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan are able to stay relatively healthy and produce in the way we know they are capable, the Spurs will be right there—again. Call it Groundhog’s Day. With great coaching, three hall of famers, championship pedigree, and DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Gary Neal… It’s impossible for me to ignore the Spurs as a legit threat in the division.

Dallas Mavericks 2012 Division Projection: 1st

Out of sheer principle, it’d be disrespectful to not pick the defending champions to win their own division… But that’s not what this is about. The Mavericks are a year older than they were last season. More importantly, though, is that they are a weaker defensive unit. The losses of DeShawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler will hurt. J.J. Barea’s defection to Minnesota puts Jason Terry in a position where he struggles—making plays. However, the Mavericks have added good basketball talent in Delonte West, Vince Carter, and Lamar Odom. Once they figure out that they’re back to hoping to outscore their opponents every night, Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and co. will get it together and figure it out. Big D should ultimately win the division, but fall short in the playoffs.

Check back tomorrow as CHARGED.fm brings you the penultimate part of its 2011-2012 NBA Season Preview. We’ll be dissecting the Southeast Division. The ultimate question will be whether or not Miami will win 60 games… Or if the Magic have a serious chance of stealing the division from them.

Moke Hamilton is the Lead NBA Writer for CHARGED.fm and covers the New York Knicks for SheridanHoops.com. For the latest in the world of the NBA, follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton

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