Western Conference Playoff Teams (Seeded 1-8)
1) Phoenix- If the Suns are ever going to win a Championship this is going to be the year. Stoudemire is another year removed from surgery. Diaw and Barbosa are just about entering their primes. If he can stay healthy, Grant Hill will be able to give them 25 quality minutes a night. Mike D'Antoni's 'stache has never looked better. Marion being unhappy is a non-story. He's been miserable for years. He's also been an All-Star caliber player. If Nash can stay healthy all season, this is the best team in the league.
2) Utah- The Jazz appear poised to make another 5 year "close but no cigar run" at an NBA Championship. Deron Williams is a terrific point guard on the upswing. Ronnie Brewer has been lighting it up in the pre-season. Their front court rotation, with Okur, Boozer, Kirilenko, and Millsap, have skills that compliment one another perfectly. They have great depth, but they lack a Top 10 player. The 03-04 Pistons were the only team that has won a champion without a Hall of Fame player in my lifetime (perhaps ever?). Utah is up against some seriously long odds to win a title.
3) Dallas- It's tough to take this group seriously as a title contender, but they are still a regular season juggernaut.
4) Houston- After the Suns I think this Rockets team has the biggest upside of any team in the West. If Luis Scola is as good as everyone thinks he is, nobody will be better at the 2 through 5
positions. Obviously Yao and McGrady haven't won a playoff series yet. They will win somewhere between one and four this year.
5) Denver- Once again they'll be a whole lot of fun. Their shitty perimeter defense will prevent them from being a serious Championship threat.
6) San Antonio- Perhaps this is a bit of wishful thinking. Here is my case: Tony Parker is the only player in the Spurs rotation that is in his 20s. This is the year that age finally catches up with the Spurs. R.C. Buford and Coach Popovich have done a great job for this team, but they are starting to push their luck with some really old veterans. If they can milk another championship out of this club, it will have been worth it, but they are about 2 seasons away from a really ugly situation in San Antonio.
7) New Orleans- Chris Paul gets into the playoffs this year. He'll easily have the most pinchable cheeks in the postseason.
8) Golden State- Unfortunately I can't see this team building on last year's success. I think Nelly maxed out this roster out last year. I would be more surprised to see them crack the Top 6 of the Western Conference than to see them fall to 11 or 12.
Western Conference Champions- Phoenix Suns
(This is based on the assumption that the Lakers trade Kobe Bryant. If he stays in LA the Lakers take the 7th seed and Golden State misses the playoffs.)
11) LA Clippers
12) LA Lakers