2011-12 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

Last Season: 17-65, 5th Northwest

It was no easy task for first year head coach Kurt Rambis as he tried to turn Minnesota into a winning team. He was unsuccessful, and as a result, was fired after the season. With a young core of players, the Timberwolves had to first learn how to lose before they could win. They did not get blown out in the majority of their games as their record might imply, but the talent on the team was enough to beat anyone who chose to overlook the match up.

Entering the new season, the Minnesota fans have a lot to look forward to. Perhaps the biggest news for the Wolves is that the long anticipated wait for Ricky Rubio is finally over. After being the fifth overall draft pick in 2009, the young Spanish star had to finish his contract overseas before playing in the NBA. As a result of his Timberwolves debut, their first pre-season game against Milwaukee sold 15,000 tickets, compared to less than 20,000 tickets sold in two pre-season games combined last year.

New head coach Rick Adelman must inspire his young squad with the premise that playing defense is the key to winning. Michael Beasley and Kevin Love must do the brunt of the work. However, with the additions of Ricky Rubio, and the 2011 second overall draft pick, Derrick Williams from the University of Arizona, Beasley and Love could have some back up weapons.

With a new coach, a new system, and some new faces, Minnesota should have a better year than the last one. They just need to make sure they rely on their stars for help.

3. Denver Nuggets

Last Season: 50-32, 2nd Northwest

The Denver Nuggets, despite winning 50 games and grabbing the fifth seed in the playoffs, battled through adversity last season dealing with the constant trade talks surrounding NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony. After the distraction of losing Melo to not losing Melo, back to losing him again, he and Chauncey Billups, were finally traded to the New York Knicks for Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Raymond Felton. The trade finally allowed the Nuggets to focus more on basketball.

This will probably be an off year for Denver, as the NBA lockout seemed to really hurt their line-up. Due to the strike, they lost three key players, Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R Smith, who contracted to play in the Chinese Basketball Association. At the time of their signing, the NBA season looked bleak. As a result, they are forced to play out the CBA’s season, which ends in mid February, before being allowed to return to the NBA. The Nuggets are going to have to find players to fill the big shoes those three left behind.

Denver has not been quiet since the lockout ended knowing they had to fill roster spots quickly. While still working out a deal to resign starter Aaron Afflalo, they were able to come to terms with center Nene, and re-sign him to a five-year deal. They also acquired Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, and Rudy Fernandez from Dallas and sent Raymond Felton to the Portland Trail Blazers.

All in all, this year’s lockout seemed to force a rebuilding of the Denver Nuggets. It is going to take some time for this group of players to familiarize themselves with each other as well, as well as with the coaching scheme of George Karl. However, with a strong front line in Nene, Chris Anderson, and Al Harrington, the Nuggets need to rely on their speed and shooting. If they use their speed to penetrate the defense, they can create scoring opportunities from lay-ups or getting to the foul line. By being the aggressive team and by sucking in the defense allowing for the kick out pass to a wide-open shooter, the Nuggets could find ways to be productive this season.

Playing a fast pace, run and gun type of game, is the key to a successful season for the Denver Nuggets.

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