We're just a few days away from the start of the NBA season, and while I certainly don't own a crystal ball – at least not one of the high-end kinds — I thought I'd put together a prediction list for the Western Conference. Here's how I think the seeding will shake out:
This spot belonged to OKC, and then something happened that I can't seem to remember. Either way, the LakeShow is loaded. Nash will have to slow down for the first time in a while, but the Lakers have won with worse defenders before.
They still have Durant and Westbrook, so that's nice. There's some reason to worry now with Harden gone, but not much. Martin will be a weird third wheel, but by the time it really matters, everything should be figured out.
Nuggets have a little of everything: shooting, size, speed, defense. Gallinari and Lawson will have to stay healthy and shoot the ball well, but if they do, watch out.
A lot going on — maybe too much — among Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill. But with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, they'll still compete with anyone.
They finally come down to earth, all the way to the fifth seed in a loaded conference. Still good, but Parker's wit, Duncan's legs (actually, wait, switch that) will finally be outdone.
Perhaps the best sixth seed in recent memory. Randolph has to stay healthy, but if Gasol lives up to contract and if they start winning the close games that they always seem to compete in, they could sneak back into the WCF.
Any team with Dirk Nowitzki will still be good. These are far from the championship Mavs, but Mayo, Brand and Collison aren't the worst trio to settle with after missing out on Deron Williams.
8. Utah Jazz
Tough to trust a team whose starting point guard is Mo Williams, but the young big men should keep getting better. Jazz will be a tough out for anyone.
No telling how much Kevin Love's injury hurts. No telling how Brandon Roy's knees will hold up. No telling what we'll see from a recovered Ricky Rubio. And yet, the x-factor is Derrick Williams. If he lives up to his billing, they can make the playoffs.
I realize Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut could go down for the count on day one, but I'm willing to bet they'll stay healthy enough for this improved team to best the others in the interchangeable 10-15 group. Adding Landry helps. Barnes is the true wild card.
11. Houston Rockets
Harden and Lin will be fun to watch, but there's too much inexperience for this team to win consistently. They'll be in a lot of close, high-scoring games, at least until the fourth quarter. And that's with a closer (Harden) finally on the team. Everything will take a TON of time to mesh together.
Could easily finish above Houston and Golden State, but it's difficult to see a team led in part by a rookie point guard — no matter what fireworks he set off in the Summer League — to compete for a playoff position. Hopefully the Blazers trade LaMarcus Aldridge to Houston soon.
Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are going to help, but unless Eric Gordon can stay healthy, the Hornets will have to see a few more losses before they start seeing the big wins.
14. Phoenix Suns
Luis Scola and Goran Dragic will give the Suns a pulse — maybe enough of a pulse to finish in the 10-12 range — but there isn't much depth on the roster and I think Michael Beasley hurts more than he helps.
15. Sacramento Kings
Too many distractions and too much youth for the Kings to scare anyone just yet. I really do hope DeMarcus Cousins breaks out and Tyreke Evans regains his rookie form, but beyond those two, this team is in a bit of disarray.