NBA Southwest Division Preview

TheSportsNotebook’s preparation for next Tuesday night’s NBA opener continues with our run of divisional previews. Today’s focus is the NBA Southwest Division, with a look at each team’s personnel, and how they compare to expectations, as defined by the NBA win futures posted in Las Vegas.

San Antonio leads up this division and the team that came within seconds of the 2013 NBA title is just one part of a division that is absolutely stacked. Memphis made the conference finals and is primed for the next step. Houston added Dwight Howard and has championship aspirations.

Even the two non-contenders–Dallas and New Orleans–are going to be tough outs on a nightly basis and have playoff possibilities. Here’s the rundown on each team…

San Antonio: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are back to key this team’s bid for a fifth NBA crown since 1999. If not for Parker’s tweaked hamstring, the Spurs likely take the championship last season. Kawhi Leonard played well all last year and really began to emerge in the Finals, giving the team a young forward to pair up with Duncan.

Sharpshooting Danny Green is back as Parker’s running mate. Manu Ginobli also returns, but this is one veteran of the championship teams (the last one in 2007) that San Antonio would have been better off without.

I don’t see how this Spurs lineup, with Duncan and Parker getting up there in years, can compete for the championship, but I didn’t see how they could last year either and they did. The pride of the vets, the coaching of Greg Popovich and the depth on the roster will help this team find a way to put itself in the discussion.

But the win prop is 55.5, and while the Spurs won 58 games a year ago, everyone’s got more wear and tear, the conference remains tough and the need for pacing remains strong. I’m going to guess San Antonio comes in a bit Under, with the question being how primed they’ll be come playoff time.

Houston: At this time last year the Rockets made a big splash when the traded for James Harden, and the two-guard showed he was ready to be a go-to star in the NBA, leading Houston into the playoffs. This year’s big acquisition is Dwight Howard, giving the Rockets an inside-outside combo with an All-Star caliber player at each spot.

Jeremy Lin runs the show at the point and Chandler Parsons is an underrated small forward, who can shoot from the outside and help out on the boards. What the Rockets are missing is depth, and it will be important for both Omer Asik and Marcus Camby to play well behind Howard.

I think expectations are running amok a bit, with Houston sitting on 55. A record of 55-27 in the Western Conference should be seen more as a high point, not a middle expectation for a betting number. I’m concerned about the Rockets’ depth, so I’m going Under.

Memphis: This is a tough physical team that knows how to play defense and rebound. The interior tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol can match up with most anyone and the Grizzlies added Kosta Koufous to provide quality depth at center. Tayshaun Prince was acquired in exchange for Rudy Gay last year and Prince enhanced the team’s defensive mentality.

Mike Conley began to emerge as a scorer, as well as a passer, in last year’s playoffs and the point guard is joined by Tony Allen and Jerryd Bayless to run alongside him. And in a move I like, Memphis added Mike Miller, the Miami sharpshooter who was angled out by similar players in Ray Allen and Shane Battier. The Grizzlies need a pure shooter and someone with championship experience. Miller has both.

Memphis has a win prop of 51.5, and I think that’s very reasonable. This is certainly a 50-win team and can reach the mid-to-high 50s, so I’m going Over.

Dallas: It seems like a long time ago that Dallas nailed Miami in South Beach in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals and won the championship. Most of the key players from that team are long gone, and Dirk Nowitzki just has to work to stay healthy for an entire year.

But a healthy Dirk is still a productive Dirk, and the Mavs had put together a nice trio of guards in Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris. They’re undersized, but there’s good ballhandling skills and offensive production in that group, particularly Ellis. Dallas has to then hope that Shawn Marion has any gas left in the tank and that DeJuan Blair can get his career jumpstarted in a way the power forward never could in San Antonio.

The win prop is 43.5. I have to take the pessimistic view and go Under, simply because an Over will virtually require Nowitzki to be healthy all year and at this stage of his career, I don’t think that’s a good bet.

New Orleans: This team is similar to Houston, albeit in a smaller scale. It’s another team doing all the right things and putting together a good future. After last year’s draft got them Anthony Davis and they brought in Eric Gordon at the two-guard spot, I loved the trade for Philadelphia point guard Jrue Holiday. The core of talent for the newly-named Pelicans to grow into a contender is here.

But the expectations are running too far out of front. There’s still experience needed, depth has to be added and they play in the tougher conference. A win future of 40.5 demands that New Orleans go .500 just to narrowly make it Over, and that asks too much. The Under is the prudent move here.

TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary will have one final preseason overview prior to the October 29 opener, where we’ll tie together all six division previews and make final playoff and championship picks.