As the 2011-2012 NBA season rapidly and finally approaches, it’s time to look at the divisions around the league that could prove the strongest in this shortened season. The southwestern division is definitely one to watch. Consisting of five teams, it is home to the current NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. The division also consists of the regular season Western Conference champs the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the New Orleans Hornets.
The southwestern division during the 2010-2011 season was one of the strongest, with no team finishing under .500.
Now it’s time to break down each team in the division and see where they will end up this season.
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San Antonio Spurs (61-21)
The Spurs were the talks of last season, at first drafting James Anderson from Oklahoma State at number 20, being the highest draft pick for San Antonio in over a decade since the draft of Tim Duncan in 1997. Coach Gregg Popovich had a strong team to work with, including veteran Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair and Tony Parker, the Spurs frequent starting five. They had a very promising season, being not only the dominant force in the west but also the league.
Although the addition of 26-year-old forward Tiago Splitter may have been a boost, age may have been a factor once the playoffs approached. The Spurs were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies. The series ended 4-2, and Zach Randolph and his more tenacious Grizz were able to top the team that seemed to be the championship favorites.
In order to improve to this current season, the Spurs need to be able to continue their game play and win streaks into the playoffs, and possibly pick up a few younger faces, as 35-year-old Tim Duncan is past his prime, and probably cannot be the key player to rely on in crunch time moments anymore in San Antonio. An over .500 record is expected, but with the number of new signings and shifts around the rest of the division and the league as a whole, another 61-21 season seems improbable in San Antonio.
An increase in close games, especially close losses, is expected, as age is proving to be a key factor for Tim Duncan and the dwindling Spurs. There’s a prediction of a 44-22 season, which is still fabulous, but not the same buzz that they brought to the NBA last season. Expect the Spurs to finish right behind the Mavericks in the division, at a close second.
Dallas Mavericks (57-25)
Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd finally won owner Mark Cuban a trophy for the first time since he purchased the Mavericks in 2000, and gave the Mavericks their first championship in franchise history. The Mavericks play was unstoppable in league play and especially during the playoffs, as they were able to shut down the favored Miami Heat in a six game series, keeping LeBron James from his first ring.
While Dallas has lost JJ Barea to Minnesota, DeShawn Stevenson to free agency, Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer to Denver, and Tyson Chandler to the Knicks, the additions of Lamar Odom, Delonte West and Vince Carter will give them extra strength to defend their title. While many see the spectacular play in Dallas as a one season run, the Mavericks entering the 2011-12 season are still one of the top contenders in the west, as well as in the whole NBA.
The additions of Odom and Carter will add size to the roster, making Dallas the team to beat. The prediction for Dallas is another great league and playoff run, with around a 48-18 record, and another decent run in the playoffs. Expect the Mavericks to finish first in the division.
Next Page: The Lower Half of the Southwest Division