Is there really much of a point in previewing the NBA’s Pacific Division for the upcoming season? The Los Angeles Lakers won it for the fifth straight time a year ago, and all they did this offseason was add future Hall of Famers Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to go with two other future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The Lakers, who really only lost Andrew Bynum (and Howard is an upgrade), are now the Miami Heat of the West Coast.
But don’t overlook the other Staples Center tenant, the Clippers. They could have won the Pacific for the first time in franchise history had the Clips not lost three of their final four games of the regular season (at Phoenix, at Atlanta and at New York). As it was, the Clippers finished a game behind the Lakers, who won two of three in the season series and, thus, would have taken any tiebreaker.
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As for the rest of the Pacific? A lot of bettors like Golden State to sneak into the playoffs, but a lot of things would have to go right. As for Phoenix and Sacramento? See you in the 2013 lottery. Here’s a quick look at each team, with 2011-12 order of finish (lockout-shortened regular-season record). All odds courtesy of 5Dimes.
L.A. LAKERS (41-25)
2011-12 ATS & “Over/Under” records: 28-38; 37-29
2012-13 over/under wins: 59
Odds to win NBA title: +300
Odds to win West: +140 (favorite)
Odds to win Pacific Division: -365 (favorite)
Hard to argue with the Lakers being the favorites here, but it’s no slam dunk. Yes, Kobe nearly won last season’s scoring title by averaging 27.9 points per game, his most since 2007-08. But he also shot 43.0 percent from the field, his lowest since his second season. Kobe’s 30.3 percent from three-point range was his third-lowest. Bryant also missed at least eight games for the second time in three years. The guy is 34 and has played more competitive basketball than any active NBA player. Nash is a stud, no doubt. But he’s 38 – doesn’t he have to slow down at some point? Howard is coming off serious back surgery. Metta World Peace could go mental at any time, and Gasol could start pouting at any time. And what if Kobe tunes out coach Mike Brown? The Lakers should be the Pacific favorites, but it’s not a 100 percent lock.
L.A. CLIPPERS (40-26)
2011-12 ATS & O/U records: 33-33-0; 33-32-1
2012-13 over/under wins: 49.5
Odds to win NBA title: +2800
Odds to win West: +1250
Odds to win Pacific Division: +320
It’s a win-now season in many regards for the Clippers because Chris Paul will become a free agent after this season – if he sees enough promise in L.A., he probably will stay put. But the Atlanta Hawks, suddenly flush with cap room, might be alluring to the North Carolina native next summer. The Clips added three veterans in Lamar Odom, who should be back to normal now that he’s back in L.A. with Khloe Kardashian, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill. The Clippers haven’t had back-to-back playoff seasons since 1992 & 1993, but it would be a stunner if they don’t match that 20 years later. I will say this: if there’s a prop on first coach fired, take Vinny Del Negro. If L.A. starts slow, he’s history.
PHOENIX SUNS (33-33)
2011-12 ATS & O/U records: 34-32-0; 26-40-0
2012-13 over/under wins: 33.5
Odds to win NBA title: +22500
Odds to win West: +8000
Odds to win Pacific Division: +9000
Phoenix is in full-out rebuild mode with Hill and Nash having left the desert, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Suns are in the running for the No. 1 overall draft pick next summer. They tried to sign Hornets restricted free agent guard Eric Gordon, but New Orleans matched. The big offseason additions were point guard Goran Dragic (who is vastly underrated and a great add) and forwards Luis Scola and Michael Beasley. I’m a fan of center Martin Gorcat, whom the Orlando Magic should have never traded a few seasons ago. However, serviceable forward Channing Frye will likely miss the season with a heart issue. This team should score a bit – not like in the Nash days -- but won’t stop anyone.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (23-43)
2011-12 ATS & O/U records: 36-29-1; 30-35-1
2012-13 over/under wins: 35.5
Odds to win NBA title: +23000
Odds to win West: +8500
Odds to win Pacific Division: +6600
If Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry can stay healthy, look out. The Warriors have been looking for a good center for decades, it seems, and Bogut is one when he can stay on the court, which is rare. Bogut, who fractured his ankle in January while with Milwaukee, has yet to practice or play a preseason game as of this writing. He probably won’t be ready to start the season. Curry has star quality, but his ankle has bothered him during his short NBA career, limiting the former Davidson star to 26 games last year. At least Curry doesn’t have to play with ball hog Monta Ellis any longer, as he was sent to the Bucks last spring in the Bogut trade. Second-year player Klay Thompson joins Curry in the backcourt and showed nice promise as a rookie. I love current rookie Harrison Barnes, and he should start from Day 1. Once again, the Warriors should be fun to watch but are a major question on defense until Bogut gets in there.
SACRAMENTO KINGS (22-44)
2011-12 ATS & O/U records: 29-37-0; 34-30-2
2012-13 over/under wins: 29.5
Odds to win NBA title: +12000 (longest shot)
Odds to win West: +35000
Odds to win Pacific Division: +9000
Center DeMarcus Cousins has Top-10 talent but is still way too inconsistent both physically and mentally. Outside of Anthony Davis, former Kansas star Thomas Robinson is probably the most NBA-ready rookie entering this season. He and Cousins should dominate the boards. But this team only takes a big jump if Tyreke Evans plays like he did in his Rookie of the Year season. He looked like a future superstar then and wants to be paid like one – this is a contract season, so maybe he earns it. By the way, Jimmer Fredette is indeed still on this team. What a wasted first-round pick that was in 2011.
I probably would roll the dice on the Clippers taking the division if Paul, Griffin and Chauncey Billups weren’t all coming off fairly major surgeries. The first two will be ready for the season, while Billups hopes to return sometime next month. What’s concerning is that Billups, Odom, Hill, Crawford, Matt Barnes and Caron Butler are all 32 or older, so expect injuries. Those are the six guys who will get the bulk of minutes outside of Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Thus look for this finish: Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Kings and Suns. My favorite wins totals in this division are Suns under, and Kings and Warriors over.
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