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CHARGED NBA Preview: Northwest Division

by Photo of Moke Hamilton

So the Thunder are the runaway favorites in the Northwest? Not so fast, my friend.

CHARGED NBA Preview: Northwest Division

And then, there was one.

The 2011-2012 NBA Season is going to be an interesting one, to say the least. The storylines are what makes the NBA so compelling and the fact that the season is shorter and more “packed in” ultimately levels the playing field—at least somewhat—between older, experienced teams and younger, hungrier teams.

Just to reiterate, I have chosen the Heat (Southeast), Mavericks (Southwest), Knicks (Atlantic), Clippers (Pacific), and Bulls (Central) to win their respective divisions.

Here, the Northwest division presents a very interesting dilemma. Thus far, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seem to be the favorites to win the Western Conference. For that reason, would it be insane to go against the grain and predict that a different team will win the division?

Maybe. But maybe not.

What I will say is this: I think that the Northwest Division is the most difficult of the six to call.

Minnesota Timberwolves 2012 Division Projection: 5th

It’s almost impossible to speculate as to how the Timberwolves will fare in 2011-2012. The main reason why is because there have been many instances throughout history when a great point guard was added to an otherwise underwhelming roster and stirred the drink. The question for the T-Wolves is how good Ricky Rubio is. We simply don’t know. If he and Kevin Love could morph into a modern day Stockton-Malone type tandem, T-Wolves fans will be happy. Unfortunately, things like that are better hoped for than betted on. Another long year awaits the Timberwolves. What’s worse? The New Orleans Hornets now own their pick for this summer’s very deep draft.

Utah Jazz 2012 Division Projection: 4th

The Jazz jumpstarted their rebuilding effort when they traded Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets last February. Now, they find themselves in the same situation as a team like the Detroit Pistons or the Washington Wizards. The have some nice pieces, but that are somewhat redundant. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter are four guys but for two positions. A decision needs to be made. Gordon Harward is a solid piece as well and if Devin Harris can rediscover his passion for the game, he can make a solid contribution to the crew from Salt Lake. The Jazz are one of the few teams in the league that have little pressure and low expectations this season. Not much more needs to be said.

Denver Nuggets 2012 Division Projection: 3rd

The Nugget are a fairly solid team that should make some strides this season. They were one of the NBA’s hottest teams last March after they dealt Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks and received Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Raymond Felton in return. The Nuggets were two deep at every position and were able to win by pushing the ball up the court and sharing the rock. The team is very different today. Raymond Felton has been traded for Andre Miller and the net effect is that Ty Lawson is the full-time starter. J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were essentially lost since both became free agents and went to play professionally in China. Wilson Chandler did the same, but will be a restricted free agent upon his return to the NBA, so he is likely to be brought back. The most notable new face for the Nuggets is Rudy Fernandez. Fernandez has yet to prove that he can be a consistent rotation player in the NBA, but he will get an opportunity now. All in all, the Nuggets are a less talented bunch than we last saw. Nevertheless, they will win their fair share of games and should “outwin” the Timberwolves and the Jazz.

Oklahoma City Thunder 2012 Division Projection: 2nd

The Thunder are one of the NBA’s contemporary “feel good” stories. So much attention has been paid to Russell Westbrook, his shooting, and his relationship with Kevin Durant. Everything I’ve heard says that the Thunder are fully committed to their dynamic duo and expect that they can ultimately lead them to the promise land. That said, I expect the Thunder to continue to make strides and for Durant and Westbrook to continue to improve their individual games. Serge Ibaka has continued to improve his range and will be a solid player for years to come in this league. Kendrick Perkins is about 25 pounds lighter than he was last season and should be able to get off the ground better and play longer stretches. Ultimately, I can’t pick the Thunder to win the division only because I don’t expect Westbrook and Durant to play great basketball every single night. It’s easy to forget just how young this team is. It’s also easy to overestimate them and think that they’re ready to win the conference. I don’t see that this year, though I do see the division battle going until the final day of the season.

Portland Trail Blazers 2012 Division Projection: 1st

Call it crazy, but I am taking the Portland Trail Blazers to win the division over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Portland, in my opinion, is one of the deepest teams in the NBA and they are well coached. Over the course of this season, the Trail Blazer’s good depth will pay dividends. The acquisitions of Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford both add depth to the returning rotation featuring the likes of Marcus Camby, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, and Nicolas Batum. They made a nice acquisition in Kurt Thomas and really have built a nice team around LaMarcus Aldridge. All in all, from top to bottom, I think the Blazers have everything they need to make some serious noise this year in the Western Conference. Keep in mind; it will be quite difficult for the Thunder to win any game in which Kevin Durant doesn’t play well. Meanwhile, the Blazers have six different players that are capable of leading them in scoring on any given night. If they can stay healthy and win some games on the road, they’ll surprise a lot of people this season.

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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