by Robert Ferringo - 11/01/2005
The Northwest Division should be one of the most interesting and unpredictable divisions in the NBA this year. With run-and-gunners and up-and-comers, this will be a fun crop of clubs to keep an eye on.
Denver is the clear favorite (think about that for a second, the Nuggets as a favorite) and many prognosticators have them pegged as the second best team in the West. I, for one, don't hold that view of them. I do think they are the soundest team in the division, but I think they're still a good shooter away from being a title contender.
Seattle is the defending champ in this division, but suffered some key losses this summer. Their perimeter-oriented style makes for good entertainment, but can make them maddening from a bettor's perspective because it leaves them more susceptible to streaky runs.
Minnesota is clinging to respectability, Portland is trying to clean up its image (good luck with that) and Utah is lying in the weeds. I expect one, but certainly not all, of those teams to put it together and make a surprise run at the two heavy hitters.
You'll notice below that I've given odds and a projection the teams in this division. Some of the teams have no Over/Under projection because they are too close to call, and I don't feel totally satisfied endorsing a play. I'm not discouraging a wager, but sometimes no advice is better than bad advice.
Here is one man's view of the Western Conference Northwest Division (in alpha order):
2004 Record: 49-33 (2nd)
2005 Title odds: 18/1
2005 Wins O/U: 50.5
2005 Wins Projection: Over (barely)
Key Additions: Julius Hodge, SF; Earl Watson, G
Key Losses: None
Outlook: This team needed to improve its perimeter shooting in the offseason, and I don't feel like they adequately addressed that need. However, they're a trendy team entering the season due in part to its 32-8 tear under George Karl last year. They're a young, up-tempo club with a frontcourt (Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby) that can actually match up with Yao and Duncan. However, I question whether Carmelo Anthony (20.9) is a true go-to guy. He may be, but compared to the studs for other Western Conference teams (Duncan, McGrady, Dirk, Pau, Nash, AK-47, Allen, Baron, Peja) he's low on the list.
Bottom line: I'd like them a lot more if they had a ballsy two-guard who's willing to hoist a big shot (like a Cassell or Billups). But until they get one they're just a very good team.
2004 Record: 44-38 (3rd)
2005 Title odds: 33/1
2005 Wins O/U: 44
2005 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Nikoloz Tskitishvili, F; Rashad McCants, SG
Key Losses: Latrell Sprewell, SG; Sam Cassell, PG; Ervin Johnson, PF; Fred Hoiberg
Outlook: The Wolves were the NBA's biggest disappointment last year (33-47-2 ATS). They've gotten rid of some cancers (Spree, Sam) but now they're left with a talent deficit. I mean, they could end up starting Marko Jaric and Trenton Hassell in the backcourt for chrissakes! I'm afraid that if Kevin Garnett doesn't get traded, his NBA legacy will be of a great player that couldn't take his team to the next level.
Bottom line: KG isn't the type to go out and string three or four 40-point games together, but that's what it would take for these guys to threaten. They'll hang around the playoff hunt and then fade in April.
Portland Trail Blazers
2004 Record: 28-54 (4th)
2005 Title odds: 150/1
2005 Wins O/U: 28.5
2005 Wins Projection: N/A
Key Additions: Jarrett Jack, PG
Key Losses: Shareef Abdur-Rahim, SF; Damon Stoudamire, PG; Derek Anderson, SG; Nick Van Excel, PG
Outlook: Incredibly young team that, despite paring down the hot heads from the roster, is looking to guys like Darius Miles, Ruben Patterson and Zach Randolph to be role models for the team. The result? Patterson and Randolph have already started bitching to the media about how the front office needs to bring in some experience. Sebastian Telfair and Jarrett Jack are at least a reason to watch these games, but they lack the depth or the maturity to make a serious run at anything. They're like the Celtics of the West - young.
Bottom line: Arrests should taper down, but Patterson and Randolph aren't two guys I would peg as role models.
2004 Record: 52-30 (1st)
2005 Title odds: 40/1
2005 Wins O/U: 43
2005 Wins Projection: N/A
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: Jerome James, C; Antonio Daniels, PG
Outlook: This team was good enough to give San Antonio all it could handle in the playoffs - and that was without Rashard Lewis. However, I don't think it is possible for this team to be better this season. Not when they lost Jerome James, who was a solid pivot for them by the end of the year, Antonio Daniels who was an aggressive scorer and solid facilitator, and coach Nate McMillan, who everyone liked. This team is still athletic enough to be a playoff team, but they're undersized on the interior. That whole run-and-gun thing can only take you so far, as we've seen with Phoenix, Dallas, and Sacramento over the last few seasons.
Bottom line: They'll make the playoffs, and be a tough matchup in the first round. But these guys aren't contenders this season and could be a flop.
2004 Record: 26-56 (5th)
2005 Title odds: 55/1
2005 Wins O/U: 34
2005 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: Deron Williams, PG
Key Losses: Raja Bell, G
Outlook: Along with Golden State, the Jazz appear to be a sleeper out West. They have a solid foundation set, and with Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Greg Ostertag, they have a decent front court. Andrei Kirilenko is still one of the most unheralded players in the game, and is a lot of fun to watch. With Jerry Sloan, you know that this team will be disciplined, give good effort every night, and play the game the right way. However, they lack the overall depth and talent to be considered a postseason contender.
Bottom line: This is a team that will hover around its win total from last year (I'm thinking 30 games) and then, with a shrewd move and a decent draft, could the surprise team in 2006-07 that wins 48 games.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of Doc's NBA picks service.