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2018-19 NBA Predictions: Southwest Division

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Anthony Davis” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The NBA’s Southwest division features three playoff teams from a season ago, making it one of the toughest divisions in the NBA. Not only does it feature three playoff teams, but it also features last year’s best regular season team (Houston Rockets), last year’s MVP (James Harden) and another MVP candidate (Anthony Davis). It also features the Spurs, who are always competitive.

This season should be fun to watch for this division. All three of the playoff teams have added new pieces. How will they all fit in? The other two teams in the division likely won’t make the playoffs, but they did add some exciting pieces and are building for their futures. So let’s take a look at each team in the Southwest division and how they’ll do this season.

 

1. HOUSTON ROCKETS

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 65-17

Postseason Result: Houston took the eventual NBA Champions (Golden State Warriors) to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals, but fell short in Game 7. They had a 3-2 lead over the Warriors, but they couldn’t overcome the loss of Chris Paul.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Drafted Vincent Edwards with the 52nd pick in the NBA Draft.
  • Signed G Michael Carter-Williams F James Ennis.
  • Signed F Carmelo Anthony.
  • Traded for G Brandon Knight and F Marquese Chriss.

Offseason Departures:

  • Lost F Trevor Ariza and F Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency.
  • Drafted De’Anthony Melton, but traded him and F Ryan Anderson to the Suns.

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

Houston was one win away from making it to the NBA Finals last season, but then Chris Paul got hurt. That injury to Chris Paul really hurt them, as Paul had been their best player through the first five games. Houston went on to lose the Western Conference Finals to the Warriors.

The best team in the regular last year faced some significant changes in the offseason. Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute are both gone. Both of those players were a big part of Houston’s defense last year. Who did they get to replace those guys? Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony is the opposite of both players, being a more offensive minded guy. Anthony isn’t a great defender, and even though he’s been known as a scorer throughout his career, his offense has never been able to carry a team very far. With the Rockets he won’t have to carry the team. That’s for Harden and Paul to do. Anthony will still have to contribute, but in a different role.

It’s been made known that Anthony will be the sixth man for the Rockets, but it’s also been made know by Anthony that he doesn’t want to be the sixth man. There’s the question for the Rockets. How will Carmelo fit in? Will he be a blessing or a burden?

Prediction: 55-27

 

2. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 48-34

Postseason Result: This team was the underdog in their first round playoff matchup against the red hot Trail Blazers. New Orleans was able to sweep the third seeded Blazers in the first round, which then put them in a second round series with the Golden State Warriors. They went on to lose that series 4-1.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Signed G Elfrid Payton and F/C Jahlil Okafor in free agency.
  • Signed F Julius Randle in free agency.

Offseason Departures:

  • Lost Demarcus Cousins to the Warriors.
  • Lost G Rajon Rondo to the Lakers.

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

Anthony Davis was in the mix to win MVP last season, and he should be expected to do so again this year. Davis is in the prime of his career at 25 years of age. In each of the last two seasons, Davis has scored 28+ points and grabbed 11+ rebounds. Those are monster numbers, which he’ll have to repeat in order to lead his team back to the playoffs and be considered for MVP again.

The big question about Anthony Davis is about his health. Davis always seems to have injuries over the course of the season, but the amount of time he’s out varies. Over the past two seasons, Davis has stayed pretty healthy, playing in 75 games each season. Can he play 70+ games again this year? Davis is the star player of this team, so how many games he plays will determine the success of the team.

Another question is regarding the new pieces the Pelicans acquired in the offseason. The two biggest moves they made were getting F Julius Randle and G Elfrid Payton. Elfrid Payton will replace Rajon Rondo, who moved on to the Lakers. He’s similar in that he can play defense and pass, but isn’t much of a scorer.

Signing Julius Randle was one of my favorite moves of the offseason. Randle has improved every season since entering the NBA. This is going to be his fifth NBA season, and I feel like he’s ready to really break out. If Nikola Mirotic continues to play like he did toward the end of last season and Julius Randle continues his improvement, Anthony Davis will have some real weapons surrounding him.

Prediction: 50-32

 

3. SAN ANTONIO SPURS 

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 47-35

Postseason Result: Entered the playoffs as the 7 seed, which got them matched up with the Golden State Warriors. With no Kawhi Leonard, the responsibility fell on LaMarcus Aldridge to carry the Spurs. Aldridge couldn’t overcome the power of Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green. San Antonio fell to the Warriors 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Traded for G DeMar DeRozan and C Jakob Poeltl as part of the Kawhi trade.
  • Signed G Marco Belinelli in free agency.
  • Drafted Lonnie Walker and Chimezie Metu in the NBA Draft.

Offseason Departures:

  • Traded F Kawhi Leonard and G Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan.
  • Lost G Tony Parker and F Kyle Anderson in free agency.
  • Lost G Manu Ginobili to retirement.

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

The Spurs have had quite the offseason. Kawhi Leonard didn’t want to be part of the organization anymore, which led to the Spurs trading him to the Raptors. In return for Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs got SG DeMar DeRozan. San Antonio also gave up G Danny Green in the trade. Leonard and Green are two of the better defensive players in the NBA, so it will be interesting to see how their defense fares without them.

Whenever you lose a player like Kawhi Leonard, it’s tough. The good news for the Spurs is that they didn’t have Kawhi for most of the season last year and still made the playoffs. LaMarcus Aldridge was tasked with carrying the Spurs. He did a pretty dang good job, but it obviously wasn’t enough when playoff time came around.

Now Aldridge has another star in DeRozan to work with. We know the Spurs can at least get by without Kawhi Leonard, so now the question becomes, how will Aldridge and DeRozan work together on the court? Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the league, so I don’t see their being a problem in how he utilizes his two stars.

I believe San Antonio will be a playoff team once again. I’d be shocked if they weren’t. Although they’ll be in the playoffs, they won’t make a deep playoff run. DeRozan hasn’t been able to get past LeBron James in the Eastern Conference. Now he’s in a tougher Western Conference, which also features LeBron James.

Prediction: 48-34

 

4. DALLAS MAVERICKS 

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 24-58

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Drafted G Luka Doncic and G Jalen Brunson in the NBA Draft.
  • Signed DeAndre Jordan in free agency.

Offseason Departures:

  • Lost F Doug McDermott, G Seth Curry, C Nerlens Noel and G Yogi Ferrell in free agency.

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

I like what the Mavericks have done this offseason. They got C DeAndre Jordan in free agency, which fills one of their biggest weaknesses from a season ago. The Mavericks were fourth worst in rebounds per game last season, so adding one of the best rebounders in the NBA makes perfect sense.

In the NBA Draft, Dallas made the move to acquire G Luka Doncic, who many considered to be the best player in the draft. Doncic led his Euroleague team to the championship and he won the MVP award. It’s quite the long shot for Doncic to win that award in the NBA, at least right now, but his potential could put him in that conversation down the road.

I’m interested to see how Doncic works together with Dennis Smith Jr. DSJ had a good rookie season, but he needs to improve his shooting. In his rookie season, we saw him use his athleticism to excite us. How well he improves his shooting will essential to the Mavs success down the road.

This season isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be about winning for the Mavs. Instead, this season should be about growth. How Doncic and Smith Jr. play together could determine their future. Can they show signs of becoming a dominant backcourt?

Prediction: 35-47

 

5. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES  

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 22-60

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Drafted F Jaren Jackson Jr. and G Jevon Carter in the NBA Draft.
  • Signed F Omri Casspi, F Kyle Anderson and G Shelvin Mack in free agency.
  • Traded for G Garrett Temple.

Offseason Departures:

  • Lost G Tyreke Evans in free agency.
  • Traded Ben McLemore, Deyonta Davis and Jarell Martin.

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

Memphis is one the verge of “let’s blow this whole thing up.” Marc Gasol and Mike Conley aren’t getting any younger. They can still provide good play for the Grizzlies, but I don’t see them being able to truly compete in the Western Conference.

Because the chances of them competing in the Western Conference are low, I want to focus on their new talent. There’s one player I want to focus on in particular. Jaren Jackson Jr. JJJ was considered the best defensive player in the draft, but he can get his own points offensively too.

I think JJJ is a legit ROY contender. If I were a Grizzlies fan, I wouldn’t be concerned with how Conley or Gasol are playing. I’d be thinking about how JJJ plays. Can he make the transition from college basketball to NBA? I don’t think he’ll have a problem. How quickly will he grow into his potential?

I think he can be a star in this league, and that’s exactly what the Grizzlies need. Jaren Jackson Jr. is the future of this team, so he needs to show he can be the guy to build around for the future.

Prediction: 28-54

 

PREDICTED DIVISION STANDINGS:

  1. Houston Rockets (55-27)
  2. New Orleans Pelicans (50-32)
  3. San Antonio Spurs (48-34)
  4. Dallas Mavericks (35-47)
  5. Memphis Grizzlies (28-54)
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