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Phife Previews The NBA’s Western Conference

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
Am I the only one who’s still shocked by the firing of George Karl after he was awarded Coach of the Year? Could it be because the Nuggets lost in the first round to Mark Jackson’s Golden State Warriors? I don’t know, but I’m quite sure the Nuggets will miss Karl, despite the hiring of Brian Shaw. Shaw will be a great coach eventually, but it’s hard to replace the X’s & O’s of a veteran such as Karl.

First order of operations would be for Shaw to make sure that he and point guard Ty Lawson are on the same page at all times. How Lawson goes, the Nuggets go. Ty is Denver’s top offensive player, playmaker, clutch player and coach on the floor.

Add the defense of Kenneth Faried, the all-around play of J.J. Hickson and Wilson Chandler, and the Nuggets can be fun to watch. But can Danilo Gallinari stay healthy? And when will we see the full maturation of JaVale McGee? The Nuggets will finish 3rd in the Northwest, and as the 8th seed in the West.
Off-Season Grade: C-

Minnesota Timberwolves
Last year, this team had a plethora of injuries and could never find their groove; this season showcases a healthier squad with a few new faces to help make a playoff push.

In my book, the two main straws that stir this drink are Ricky Rubio and power forward Kevin Love, who I believe is the best power forward in the league (after Tim Duncan) when healthy. Love can do it all.

Coach Rick Adelman has a lineup that can cause a mismatch or two in the backcourt (size wise) with 2nd round pick (6’5 point guard) Lorenzo Brown from NC State, 6’6 Russian guard Alexey Shved and former Oklahoma City Thunder sharpshooter Kevin Martin.

But is there anyone on this team that can play defense? This remains to be seen, and until then the T-wolves will finish 4th in the Northwest division.
Off-Season Grade: C-

Oklahoma City Thunder
We all know this team runs on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant like cars run on gas; without these two, the Thunder become a broken-down vehicle with four flats.

Who can become that third scoring option, that other go-to guy? It doesn’t matter if it’s a starter or off the bench. This has been the Million Dollar Question since the departure of James Harden. I need to witness backup point guard Reggie Jackson become that playmaker, and he’ll have a chance to do just that until Westbrook’s return.

What about Serge Ibaka? Can his offensive game reach new heights? How about second year players Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones? Somebody has to step up; if not, Coach Scotty Brooks and Durant can only take this team but so far. Remember, the Rockets, Warriors, Grizzlies and Clippers have all gotten better. I see OKC finishing 1st in the Northwest, and with the 3rd seed in the West.
Off-Season Grade: D

Portland TrailBlazers
This is a team that I’m dying to see do well. I love the game of shooting guard Wesley Matthews and Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. Thank God for DirecTV NBA League Pass; if not for that purchase, I wouldn’t be able to watch whatever game I want, and Lord knows I enjoy the excitement that the Blazers bring to the Arena every night. I guess I’ll always have a place in my heart for Underdogs.

Take a look at the Blazers’ roster—other than LaMarcus Aldridge being the No. 2 overall pick out of Texas in 2006, they’ve got Damian Lillard—unknown out of Weber State—Wesley Matthews—under the radar out of Marquette—and Rookie C.J. McCollum out of Lehigh University. Not exactly highlight-reel prospects.

Take my word for it folks, this will be a dangerous team out West. They will finish 2nd in the Northwest, and with the 7th seed in the West.
Off-Season Grade: B-

Utah Jazz
Where do I start?

This is strictly a youth movement going on here, with a lot of youngsters with great potential. The question is, how much can Coach Tyrone Corbin get out of them?

Forward Gordon Hayward must have a breakout year, and with the veteran losses of Al Jefferson (to Charlotte) and Paul Millsap (to Atlanta), this gives center Enes Kanter a chance to blossom as well as versatile forward Derrick Favors the chance to show the promise he once had.

Put 6’6 guard Alec Burks at the 2 spot, then add rookie—and 2013 college player of the year—Trey Burke to the fold (despite his struggles during summer league) and allow these kids to grow. They won’t contend for a championship overnight, and that we all know. Utah will finish 5th in the Northwest division.
Off-Season Grade: D

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