We continue the Previews Review in the wild, wild Southwest Division. This Division is stacked. The Spurs may be the quietest 54 win, defending Champs ever. Dallas proved last year that it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that ring, so they went out and got Jason Kidd to seal the deal. The Hornets hit fast forward on the time machine and blossomed before anyone thought possible. Only the Grizzlies are on the outside looking in and they made their own noise this season with the Pau Gasol trade.
Let's see what the bloggers had to say after an exciting year in the West.
San Antonio Spurs
Spur of the Moment - David Thiessen
Before the season began, I made a preview that was compiled with others from around the blogosphere at CelticsBlog.com. Now I’m going back and looking at how my predictions panned out.
Thanks to the predictability of the Spurs, I actually sound pretty smart right now. I said they would finish with a record of 57-25, and right now they are 53-24. I think they will finish the season 56-26, so I actually came pretty close.
Looking at the preview, the two weaknesses I pointed out, age and injury risks, also came true. Age has seemingly caught up with the Spurs at times, with opponents looking fresher and quicker. This is especially true for Robert "Where’s my cane?" Horry, who has not done much this year. The injuries, however, are what really strike me as interesting. While the Big Three avoided the major injuries that I feared, all three dealt with some ailment throughout the year, which the Spurs haven’t had in the past. Even when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were "healthy" at times, they were really less than 100% and it showed. More than the age factor, I think these nagging injuries led to the Spurs struggles because they haven’t had the same consistency as in past years, and players like Michael Finley played more minutes than they should have.
The one area I really failed was with my championship predictions. Like many others around the Internet, I thought Chicago would contend for a championship. Oops. I also didn’t give Boston enough credit, saying that the champion would come from San Antonio, Dallas or Phoenix. If I rewrote that today, I would say the champion would come from one of Detroit, Boston and seemingly any team out West.
All in all, I feel pretty good about my prediction. Mostly I was helped by the reliability of the Spurs. Even in a supposedly down year, they are going to come close to my predicted record of 57-25, which is a joy for Spurs fans to know. Even in the Spurs down year, they are pretty darn good.
New Orleans Hornets
I anticipated great things for the Hornets, on the one condition that they could stay healthy. So far so good, with the starters having missed just a combined 22 games this season, compared to 133 in 2006-07. And hey, look! We're atop the Western Conference, having already surpassed my predicted 48 wins. Can't say I expected the Hornets to be this good this soon, but I'm happy to be proved wrong.
I expected more running and gunning from this team, but New Orleans ranks bottom five in pace this season. I also predicted improved bench play, but the second unit has been pretty inconsistent, especially on offense. As for Chris Paul, I didn't foresee him playing like some kind of demigod and competing for MVP. His first All-Star appearance was predictable, but no way did I think folks would be declaring him the best point guard in the game by season's end.
I had hoped that the Hornets would win the fans back in New Orleans, and after a slow start it seems they've done just that, selling out 11 of their past 16 games at the Arena. It's all come together nicely, and just in time for the Playoffs.
3 Shades of Blue - Spartacus
I predicted 37 wins -- and I was off by a wide margin. The Grizzlies should match last season's 22 wins, but won't be much better than that. The mid-season trade of Pau Gasol threw an already disappointing season into a disastrous tailspin that the youngsters seem to have pulled themselves out of in recent weeks. I said that the team would need time to develop chemistry and familiarity, and it appears I was 100% correct as the team is among the league's worst in assists, turnovers, opponent's FG%, point differential and rebounding differential. Those are clear indicators of a team that doesn't feel comfortable with each other or confident as a team.
Juan Carlos Navarro and Darko Milicic have lived up to expectations and should prove to be valuable members of this team going forward. Rudy Gay has been a big surprise, making the transition from young role player to team leader in record time. The point guard situation still isn't resolved and could get murkier if the team is in position to draft local fan favorite Derrick Rose. Young team, young coach and plenty of question marks going into the offseason that were expected to be answered already.
Showboating - Joe Boikess
In hindsight, I suppose my 60-win prediction for the Mavericks was a tad high. But then again, I don’t think anyone envisioned just how wild this season would turn out to be. Combine all of the incredible storylines and this could end up being one of the most compelling regular seasons the Association has produced in quite some time.
As the season progressed, it became clear that the Mavericks couldn’t possibly duplicate their record-breaking 67-win season. By early February the team had already tallied as many losses as they suffered all of last year. Avery, Cuban and Co. decided that they needed to make a change to keep pace in the ultra-competitive West, so they rolled the dice and traded one-third of the team for Jason Kidd.
While I can’t judge until after the season whether the trade was a success or failure, I can say two things. First, this is a much different team than the one that got booted by the Warriors in the first round. Second, the addition of Kidd has re-energized Dirk Nowitzki, who unlike last season looks to be peaking at the right time. Will those two factors end up being the difference this time around? I can’t wait to find out.