Heading into the 2011-2012 NBA season, the Western Conference remains as the deeper conference. Take No Prisoners Sports will give a team by team preview of the conference.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Denver Nuggets (50-32 last season) – When the Nuggets lost Carmelo Anthony, they were supposed to be in decline. I guess that’s why they play the games. Denver won games that everyone thought that they would lose. They ended up winning 50 games, becoming the fifth seed in the playoffs. Ty Lawson is holding his own. He and veteran Andre Miller are a great one/two punch at the point guard position. Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo, Nene and Danilo Gallinari provides a lot of firepower offensively. I don’t know if the Nuggets can improve their win total from last season but they will compete.

Minnesota Timber Wolves (17-65 last season) – Last season was a long one for the Timber Wolves. Look for that trend to continue in Minnesota.

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27 last season/Division Winner) – This is the most dangerous group of young talent in the west. Kevin Durant is the most dynamic player in the game. Barring any injury, Durant will get his third scoring title and a possible league MVP crown. The sky’s the limit for point guard Russell Westbrook. He’s proven to be one of the best at that position. Serge Ibaka controls the paint defensively. The Thunder will be one of the front-runners in the West.

Portland Trail Blazers (48-34 last season) – Injuries have plagued the Trail Blazers in the past, yet they continue to be competitive. With Brandon Roy retiring and Greg Oden being injury prone, Portland will continue to ride on the shoulders of LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, Wesley Matthews and Raymond Felton. These starters bring speed and toughness but will it be enough? Probably not!

Utah Jazz (39-43 last season) –  Last season, Jazz fans saw their hall of fame coach Jerry Sloan step down, ending his feud with Deron Williams, only to see Williams leave for New Jersey soon after. As a result, Utah missed the playoffs. The Jazz now have Al Jefferson. Add Paul Milsap, and they have a pretty decent front court. But it’s the back court that is in question. Utah fans will have to endure another season without a playoff berth.

PACIFIC DIVISION 

Golden State Warriors (36-46 last season) – The back court of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry will always bring it. Dorell Wright will put up numbers as well. Preventing opponents from scoring has been the “Achilles Heel” for this team. Rookie head coach Mark Jackson will try to change that as he will attempt to implement a defensive mindset into Northern California’s club.

Los Angeles Clippers (32-50 last season) – Once known as the other team in Los Angeles, the Clippers have made some dramatic changes to their lineup. Acquiring arguably the best point guard in the game in Chris Paul (Thanks to David Stern) , Chauncey “Mr. Big Shot” Billups, Caron “Tough Juice” Butler and Mo Williams, the Clippers will be a team to be reckoned with this season. Power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan are human highlight reels. The Clippers abused its home town rival Lakers in their first preseason game with the new lineup. If that was a sign to come, watch out Lakers!

Los Angeles Lakers (57-25 last season/Division Winner) – This has been an interesting off-season for the Lakers. New coach….New players…. New scheme. When Lamar Odom was shipped to the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and Shannon Brown moving to Phoenix to play for the Suns, LA created major challenges matching that talent. The two combined for 23.3 points last season off the bench. By adding sharp shooter Jason Kapono, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts, as well as having Metta World Peace lead the second unit, Los Angeles is optimistic in salvaging a depleted bench. Let’s be honest, they will look different in all aspects but they still have their core group of players, along with the potential of being a dangerous group. However, LA has a lot of work to do and the likelihood of a 17th banner going up at Staples Center next fall is slim.

Phoenix Suns (40-42 last season) – Steve Nash can still make plays but the question is…..for how long? Looking at a team that consists of mainly guards and small forwards, I see the Suns just about breaking even in total wins and losses.

Sacramento Kings (24-58 last season) – Limited talented and no real sense of direction, the Kings will continue to be the bottom feeders of the conference.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Dallas Mavericks (57-25 last season)** – It’s only fair to place the defending champs as one of the front-runners in the West. Dirk Nowitzki along with Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and newly acquired Lamar Odom, will be offensive juggernauts. However, the Mavs took a hit defensively when they lost Tyson Chandler to free agency. If Dirk can duplicate what he did in last year’s playoffs, watch out!

Houston Rockets (43-39 last season) – Houston was somewhat of a surprise last season. The play of Luis Scola and Kevin Martin were key last season for the Rockets. They will be expected to carry the load this season as well, along with point guard Kyle Lowry who will run the offense full-time this season. It will be interesting to see if they can compete in the west.

Memphis Grizzlies (46-36 last season) – Memphis looks to build on what they did last season. Zack Randolph is an unbelievable talent at the power forward position. He can score almost at will. Mike Conley is establishing himself as one of the better point guards in the NBA. Couple that with the return of Rudy Gay and a deep bench, the Grizzlies will shake things up in the Southwest Division. Youth, talent, hunger and confidence will put teams in the west on notice.

New Orleans Hornets (46-36 last season) – Two weeks ago, a trade was made, the Commissioner abused his authority and voided the trade, the Hornets looked like a team in disarray. Then another trade was made, it got approved by the league and the Hornets actually got a better deal. But when it’s all said and done, the Hornets will still  miss the playoffs. Hopefully they will get an owner soon.

San Antonio Spurs (61-21 last season/ Division Winner) – San Antonio was the surprise team last season, earning the number one seed entering the playoffs. The Spurs also made a surprise exit in the first round of the 2011 NBA playoffs as they were knocked off by the Memphis Grizzlies. Head coach Gregg Popovich will always have his team ready. In fact, he coached the Spurs to its first title during the 1998-1999 locked out shortened season. A 66 game season favors an old veteran team. Although Tim Duncan is at the twilight of his career, he can still put up solid numbers. However, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker will have to shoulder the weight offensively. With one of the best benches in the league, San Antonio will remain in the mix of things.

**NBA champion

By Keith Madyun

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