Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks have three bench players who could start on any other team: Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, and Shawn Marion. Point guard Jason Kidd continues to defy age and Dirk Nowitzki remains one of the most consistent power forwards of the decade. If the Mavs want to make any noise in the playoffs, though, swingman Caron Butler will need to return to all-star form. If the pieces fall into place, Dallas should be able to clear its reputation of being just a “good regular season team.”
San Antonio Spurs: The clock is ticking on the aging Spurs’s window to win one last championship with their current group. Much of the team’s success hinges on the health of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan. Youngsters George Hill, DeJuan Blair, and Tiago Splitter must continue to improve if the Spurs hope to make headway in a talented division. Analysts continue to sleep on the Spurs, but look for them to make one last push while Duncan is still playing at an elite level.
Houston Rockets: The major storyline surrounding the Rockets is the return of all-star centre Yao Ming. It remains to be seen whether Yao can be effective in only 24 minutes a game—doctors’ and coaches’ orders—but his size and presence is a huge boost for this scrappy squad. Luis Scola is one of the most underrated and hardworking players in the NBA. The Rockets are talented and will sneak into the playoffs as the team nobody wants to face.
Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies have one of the most balanced starting fives in the Western Conference, but that’s all they have going for them. The lack of depth on Memphis’ bench (save for Darrell Arthur) will prevent this team from reaching the post-season. The Grizzlies expect a big year out of fourth-year point guard Mike Conley, who desperately needs to improve his decision-making. Memphis’ pride is budding star centre Marc Gasol, who has all the tools to be just as good as older brother Pau.
New Orleans Hornets: You would think that the team with the best point guard in the NBA would be able to snag the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but that’s not the case with the Hornets. Chris Paul is a wonder to watch on the court but the rest of the team lacks his determination. Emeka Okafor has reached his ceiling while Trevor Ariza hurts New Orleans with his terrible shot selection. We can only hope that Paul gets traded to a contender so the league can appreciate his magic in the playoffs.