We’ve been taking a weekly comprehensive division-by-division look to get you thoughts on win totals and futures on division odds, but now that games that count in the standings are about to tip off, we’re cramming the Northwest and Pacific Division info into one column.
The Warriors and Clippers rule one, while the other is completely up for grabs, so here’s what to watch for. The following is a look at how these teams stack up, listed in their projected order of finish. All win totals courtesy of the Westgate LV Superbook:
Golden State (66.5 projected wins): Most of the early public money is all over the “super team” concept, riding the Warriors to win the NBA title. Despite adding Kevin Durant, coming off a 73-win season means there will undoubtedly be a drop-off. The books were somewhat committed to put up a high number as a result and originally went 68.5 at some spots upon Durant announcing his intention to head west on July 4. But there’s no way Golden State is going to be as cohesive a group as last season’s record-setting group until at least 2017. Although the Warriors will win the Pacific and deserve to be considered the favorite to win the NBA title come June, fading a finish as strong as 67-15 is the right thing to do.
LA Clippers (53.5): Only the Warriors, Cavs and Spurs have had higher expectations heaped on them, but the Clippers have won at least 53 games in each of the past four seasons despite Blake Griffin missing large stretches in each of the last two. Essentially the same team returns with veterans Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass coming on board, so there’s no reason to expect a decline. If Griffin stays healthy and continues improving alongside Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, the Clips could make a run at setting a franchise-record for wins with 58.
Phoenix (26.5): If you want to back a team with a low ceiling, skip the Sixers and side with the Suns. Not only does this group seem to love playing for Earl Watson, but with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight returning to run the point, they’ll be far better equipped to finish games. Devin Booker is emerging as one of the NBA’s top young shooting guards, and a center combination of veteran Tyson Chandler and Alex Len patrolling the paint means the ingredients are on board to turn things around quickly.
Sacramento (32.5): Ex-Grizzlies head man Dave Joerger becomes the latest coach to try and get through to DeMarcus Cousins, while Rudy Gay faces an uncertain future on a team that wouldn’t mind moving him. Although Vlade Divac added a few nice pieces in veteran wing Aaron Afflalo and rookie shooting guard Malachi Richardson, there are too many question marks everywhere else. It’s hard to get behind this group being able to avoid 50 losses for the second straight year, something they haven’t done since ’06-’08.
LA Lakers (24.5): Kobe Bryant is gone and the rebuilding process that has already begun will continue without the legendary guard sabotaging growth. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson will be at the controls while No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram will be given plenty of opportunities to learn on the job. Adding veterans like Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov and Jose Calderon will ensure a professional locker room, but wins are likely to be scarce again.
Utah (47.5): The group that has been assembled in Salt Lake City for this season is the best and deepest in nearly a decade, fortified by the offseason additions of veterans Joe Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw. All came on board without the young core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood being messed with. Dante Exum and Trey Miles, 21-year-olds with bright futures, could be x-factors. If both have an impact, look for the Jazz to win a loaded Northwest by topping the 50-win mark for the first time since 2010. Don’t be surprised if Quin Snyder winds up winning Coach of the Year.
Oklahoma City (45.5): While there’s no doubt losing Durant removes the Thunder from the group realistically capable of winning a championship, there’s enough talent to not only make the playoffs, but to win the Northwest for the sixth time in seven years. Russell Westbrook is going to put up MVP-caliber numbers, Victor Oladipo should flourish in his new surroundings and young big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter will continue to improve. OKC will either win the Northwest again or emerge as the runner-up.
Minnesota (41.5): It’s a shame Kevin Garnett retired, because even though he didn’t figure to play much on this team, it would’ve been nice for the Timberwolves all-time leading scorer and rebounder to go out a winner. Tom Thibodeau will upgrade the defense, especially since rookie point guard Kris Dunn will team with Ricky Rubio to set the tone on that end of the floor for 48 minutes. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will only improve and become more consistent, so the question won’t be whether this team will win their prop and finish over .500, but rather, whether the Wolves will be able to push through for a 50-win season to capture the Northwest.
Portland (46.5): They finished with 44 wins last year when they were expected to win fewer than 30 due to so many departures. Instead, Damian Lillard emerged as a star, C.J. McCollum as a 20-point scorer and the likes of Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harkless and Mason Plumlee all made drastic improvement. That entire core is back in addition to the well-paid Allen Crabbe, who was almost poached by Brooklyn. Still, with the Northwest deeper, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Blazers take a step backwards, finishing around .500.
Denver (36.5): The Nuggets had a winning March last season, so there are some expectations that Michael Malone will continue reaching his talented young players. Serbian Nikola Jokic shined at the Olympics and looks like a major building block next to point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. If veterans Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried stay healthy, this frontcourt will be deep. Expect improvement unless the injury bug hits again or multiple players regress.