The Lakers and the Spurs are the heavy favorites to lock down the top spots in the Western Conference. Even though the third spot is up for grabs, I think the most likely candidates will be either Portland or Denver. The Nuggets last year gave the Lakers a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals, but the Blazers continually get better every season. Both teams had 54-28 records last season. The question is: Which of these two teams will have a better record after 82 games?
Denver has the clear experience advantage over Portland. Besides making the final four last year, Chauncey Billups has won a championship and Kenyon Martin has been to two finals. J.R. Smith will miss the first seven games of the season due to a suspension, but I expect him to have a better year than last year. He is coming off a career year and has shown flashes of maturing. He told reporters that his stint in jail over the summer as well as recently becoming a father has humbled him. Coach Karl also expects big things out of Nene. He even went so far to say Nene has a chance to be an all-star this season.
The Nuggets have kept basically the same core of players from last year. They lost Dahntay Jones but have replaced him with Arron Afflalo. Although Denver is going with the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach, that could bite them in the butt a little bit. Portland, on the other hand, addressed the one position they needed an upgrade in: the point guard spot. They signed veteran Andre Miller over the summer and the move will make Portland a better and deeper squad.
Portland definitely got waxed in the first round of the playoffs. But it was their first go at it and the team has made proven they have the ability to continually improve. Brandon Roy is a superstar in the making and LaMarcus Aldridge has all-star potential himself. If they can get Greg Oden to stay out of foul trouble and injury-free, they will be a contender for the next decade.
I think at the end of the year, experience will prevail and the Nuggets will have the third best record in the Conference at around 56 wins. Portland won’t be far behind though.
Who do you think will have a better record?
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