Spurs will still win without Duncan

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The NBA season is around the corner. If you’ve been following in recent weeks, you’re up to date on the Eastern Conference. Our look at the West begins with the top division in the league, the always-competitive Southwest.

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook released their projected win totals for all 30 teams and has made the Spurs a substantial favorite here (1-to-7 to win Southwest). Coming off the best regular-season in their storied franchise history, you’ll get no argument against the Spurs here. The following is a look at how these teams stack up, listed in their projected order of finish.

San Antonio

Projected wins 56.5: The legendary Tim Duncan is gone. Amazingly, the only time the Spurs won less than 50 games in his 19-year career came in the 1998-99 strike-shortened season when they went 37-13, ultimately winning the first of five NBA titles with him on board. Gregg Popovich always jokes that he’d follow his franchise player out the door, but he’ll be back with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as his stars and Pau Gasol as this season’s key offseason acquisition.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are another year older, but Patty Mills and Danny Green are back to help ease the burden in the backcourt. San Antonio won a franchise-record 67 games last season and should finish with 57-62 victories in ’16-’17. Gasol is the x-factor here, since he should respond well to how Popovich will monitor his minutes and is likely to mesh well with Aldridge, allowing for some fascinating high-low opportunities.

Memphis

Projected wins 43.5: Center Marc Gasol looks to be in shape in his return from foot surgery and should pick up right where he left off as one of the league’s top two-way big men. With fellow co-captain Mike Conley paid handsomely (5 years, $153 million) to stick around and run the show for the rest of the decade, the Grizzlies should be able to maintain its grit-and-grind mentality, welcoming back Tony Allen to continue as a lockdown defender. Memphis hopes to keep Zach Randolph’s minutes down and is bringing him off the bench so he stays fresh for a playoff run, which means the newly acquired Chandler Parsons and emerging talent JaMychal Green should play large roles

We’ll see if Vince Carter, who turns 40 in January, can continue supplying a scoring boost off the bench, or if sharp-shooter Troy Daniels emerges. New head coach David Fizdale, a long-time assistant with the Heat, should post at least 45 wins if the core stays healthy. If anyone can take down San Antonio, it’s this group, but 8-to-1 odds aren’t lucrative enough to back them avoiding injuries and potential depth issues. The Spurs set too high a bar.

Dallas

Projected wins (39.5): Even though they’ve been stuck in what has been the toughest division in basketball for most of the last decade, the Mavericks haven’t had a losing record since 1999-2000, the first year Mark Cuban owned the team. Even then, they used a 9-1 record in the season’s final month and got to 40 wins, which would net the over in 2017 as far as bookmakers are concerned. This is one of the bigger locks in the NBA win total game, since Rick Carlisle does have plenty of talent at his disposal and perennially finds ways to maximize his team’s abilities.

Carlisle adds ex-Warriors Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut to the equation, knows what he’s getting from a rejuvenated Deron Williams and has also added potential key role players in rookie center A.J. Hammons, energetic forward Quincy Acy and shooter Seth Curry. Expect another winning season and a playoff appearance.

Houston

Projected wins (41.5): New head coach Mike D’Antoni takes over, so count on the Rockets being the highest-scoring team in the league. They’ll give up more points than anyone else, too, which is a dangerous game to play but one that D’Antoni has had success with in the past. Since Dwight Howard is gone and shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon came on board, Houston does have enough toys on board to potentially be successful playing to the strengths of its personnel, but banking on them improving on last year’s 41-41 record before seeing how all the pieces come together is something I’d want no part of.

They can certainly exceed expectations, but that depends on James Harden making the transition to point guard effectively. Keeping teammates engaged will be a major challenge. Defense, too.

New Orleans

Projected wins (36.5): Entering his fifth season as a pro, Anthony Davis still hasn’t played more than 68 of 82 games, which makes it dangerous to back the Pelicans even with this seemingly low-hanging fruit.

Davis enters the season nursing an ankle injury and is certain to miss time, so things haven’t gotten off to an ideal start. There’s no denying he’s one of the NBA’s most talented performers, but New Orleans has been to the playoffs only once with him on board, only topping 34 wins in 2015.

A new-look group will feature rookie Buddy Hield and free-agent acquisitions Lance Stephenson and Langston Galloway on the wing in addition to returning guards Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Alvin Gentry has his work cut out for him, especially given the division he toils in. If Davis fails to get to 70 games again, they’ll be back in the familiar position of bringing up the rear in the Southwest.

Website: VegasInsider.com

About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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